Whiskered Tern

Best wildlife and nature reserves in Essex

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Essex boasts some of the country's most diverse and beautiful wildlife, including ancient woodland, hard to find plants and rare bird species.

The local council and wildlife organisations work together to preserve these areas of natural beauty—and here are some of our favourite spots to visit. Each of these special spaces are accessible from our Essex park at The Orchards, so they’re ideal for a day out when you break from the hustle and bustle with us.

So, pack up a tasty lunch, pull on your walking boots, and start exploring.

Walton Wildlife Trail, near Walton-on-the-Naze

Walton Wildlife Trail, near Walton-on-the-Naze

The Naze is around three miles from Walton-On-The-Naze, along the Naze Peninsula. You'll want to wear your sensible shoes for this 3.7-mile trail, as it's mostly grassy and uneven - but well worth the trek. Seals, birds, insects and plants are native to this area.

Leading onto the trail is Hamford Water National Nature Reserve, an area of global importance. From the Walton Wildlife Trail, you'll spot 7,000 acres of saltmarsh and tidal mudflats, home to several bird species like waders and wildfowl.

For the little ones, there's a play area along the trail - plus access to public toilets, parking, and information points dotted around the trail route.

15 miles from The Orchards

Howlands Marsh Nature Reserve, The Orchards

Howlands Marsh Nature Reserve, The Orchards

Near St Osyth Creek you'll find Howlands Marsh, 180 acres of wildland and saltmarsh. With winding rough paths and walking trails, pack up a lunch and bring the whole family for a picturesque walk with views of the estuary.

You'll be able to access the marsh at any time of year and observe nature at work. Home to an array of plants including forget-me-nots and samphire, and birds such as barn owls and marsh harriers in search of prey. Relax in the bird hides dotted across the marsh to get a closer look at the birds in every season.

Bring your four-legged friend on a lead—they're permitted along the public footpaths here. And parking's no trouble - the nature reserve is only a short walk from the parking layby.

Opposite The Orchards

Great Holland Pits Nature Reserve, near Holland-on-Sea

Great Holland Pits Nature Reserve, near Holland-on-Sea

Drive nine or so miles from The Orchards and you'll discover the Great Holland Pits Nature Reserve near Frinton-on-Sea. Home to many butterflies, moths, and plants, you can visit this beautiful area all year round. Species here include Soft Shield ferns, Kingfishers, and the weird and wonderful Mousetail plant.

With its many paths that twist and turn through the woodland and around water meadows, there are different length trails to suit your ability and adventure levels. Bird hides make for natural stopping points in your trek, to get a quick rest and spy on the birds in action. You may even be lucky enough to spot grazing cows and ponies in the Spring and Autumn months.

If you are popping down in the car, there's a small car park available.

9.5 miles from The Orchards

Fingringhoe Wick Nature Discovery Park, near Colchester

Fingringhoe Wick Nature Discovery Park, near Colchester

Overlooking the beautiful Colne estuary, Fingringhoe Wick is a nature reserve spread across 200 acres, a stone's throw from Colchester. This spot has an interesting past! It was used for industrial sand and gravel extraction until the 1950s, leaving it pretty barren.

It's been a treasured spot of natural beauty since Essex Wildlife Trust transformed the area and opened it to the public in 1961. It's now home to hundreds of species of birds, plants, and insects throughout every season.

There's ample parking and disabled access, including an off-road mobility scooter for getting around with ease.

You'll find a range of habitats to explore—scrub, reedbeds, meadows, and woodland. Visitors can learn more about the native species at the visitor centre, or spy on the birds in the hides dotted around the reserve.

Don't leave your pooch behind - dogs are welcome on the dog trail, provided they're kept on a lead.

When the whole family is tired out from wildlife spotting, you can explore the well-stocked gift shop and refreshments in the cafe area.

18 miles from The Orchards

Brightlingsea Marsh National Nature Reserve, Brightlingsea

Brightlingsea Marsh National Nature Reserve, Brightlingsea

Another gem along the Colne Estuary, the Brightlingsea Marsh is home to many significant species and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). This spot forms part of the larger Colne Estuary National Nature Reserve which includes East Mersea Flats and a shingle beach at Colne's Point.

A walk along this reserve in any season will delight budding birdwatchers, with Redshank, Brent Geese, and wildfowl. It's home to large ant hills that attract green woodpeckers, and plenty of native plants and flowers. 

Families can walk the entire length of the marshland by following the scenic sea wall path. You may even be fortunate enough to spot sheep and cattle grazing in the traditional way.

Not travelling by car? Not a problem! This natural area is easily accessible by bus and train. 

When the whole family is tired out from wildlife spotting, you can explore the well-stocked gift shop and refreshments in the cafe area.

9.5 miles from The Orchards

Belfairs Nature Discovery Centre, Southend-on-Sea

Belfairs Nature Discovery Centre, Southend-on-Sea

Belfairs is a great option if you’re in the mood to venture a little further from our park at The Orchards. Across 1160 acres of Southend-on-Sea is the stunning Daws Heath Woodland, accessible through the Belfairs Nature Discovery Centre. This reserve is a must-visit for adults and children who love learning about wildlife hands-on.

Thankfully, it's open seven days a week to guests, including dogs (provided they're kept on their leads at all times).

Much of this living landscape is ancient woodland - over 1,000 years old. Among it are hundreds of important species of animals and plants, including the dormouse, song thrush, and Wild Service tree (a very rare find indeed!) Guests can take one of several woodland paths, including the sculpture trail.

The Discovery Centre is located in a wooden building that blends into its surroundings. For guests, it includes an education centre so you can find out more about the native flora and fauna. When you're ready, head to the refreshment area for a snack and finish up in the gift shop.

56 miles from The Orchards

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