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Hanningfield Reservoir

82ac/33ha  SSSI

Grid ref: TQ 725 971

Updated 31/12/2023.

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This mixture of ancient and secondary woodland south of Hanningfield Reservoir is managed by Essex Wildlife Trust on lease from Essex & Suffolk Water. The reservoir is best known (apart from its large trout!) for its populations of waterfowl. Gadwall, tufted duck and pochard are three of the important breeding species and year-round coot numbers are nationally important. Many geese, ducks and swans use the reservoir as a safe refuge in winter, and notably large flocks of wigeon.

An unusual summer spectacle is the bat rush hour around dusk, when hundreds of soprano pipistrelles roosting in the roof of the visitor centre come out to feed.

This section of the reservoir is surrounded by woodland. Well Wood and Hawk's Wood, are ancient in origin. Ditch-and-bank boundaries mark the extent of the old coppice, and some of the original hornbeam trees survive. The woods support many species indicative of ancient woodland and provide a fine show of spring flowers, in particular bluebells, yellow archangel and stitchwort. In summer, many dragonflies and damselflies can be seen around the ponds.

From the visitor centre waymarked trails lead through the woodland to four birdwatching hides. Much of the reservoir can be scanned from the hides, with especially good views over an island that is popular with wildfowl and a raft provided for common terns to nest.


Turn off the B1007 (Billericay to Chelmsford) on to Downham Road and turn left on to Hawkswood Road. The entrance is just beyond the causeway, opposite Crowsheath Lane. SatNav: CM11 1WT.

Wickford–Chelmsford bus to Downham village and walk 800m down Crowsheath Lane.

Visitor Centre open daily 9 am – 5 pm, except Christmas Day and Boxing Day, serving refreshments and offering a wide range of optical equipment and gifts.

April–July for breeding birds in woodland and on water and for wild flowers; winter and migration periods for wildfowl.

Disabled parking and toilets at the centre; disabled pathway runs from there to a bird hide equipped for disabled users.

No dogs except guide dogs allowed on site.

For information about events and activities call the Centre on 01268 711001.

© Claire Cadman