Essex Wildlife Trust
A 700 acre coastal farm and the head office of Essex Wildlife Trust situated on the Blackwater Estuary. Visitors can see the success of the coastal realignment project and enjoy a fantastic, wildlife packed walk. An exemplar of how to farm commercially and for wildlife.
Abbotts Hall Farm is the head office of Essex Wildlife Trust. It linkes together over 3,000 acres of wildlife rich land along a 25km stretch of Essex Coast. The farm is situated on the Blackwater Estuary, an internationally important area for wildlife. The 700 acres farm shows how sustainable coastal defences can lead to the creation of coastal marshes that are vital for the future of both wildlife and people. This is a working farm where EWT is aiming to show how wildlife can flourish alongside profitable farming.
Coastal Defence and Realignment
Essex Wildlife Trust purchased Abbotts Hall Farm in 1999 and was keen to work with the Environment Agency to try and re-grow new costal marshes on the Essex Coast. The sea wall at Abbotts Hall was in need of repair and Essex Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency wanted to consider different ways of costal defence which took into account the problems of the sea level rising. There followed 2 years of studies and monitoring, for example looking at the water levels and flows in the Salcott Channel (part of the Blackwater Estuary) to help determine the effects that the breaches would have on the Estuary. These hydrodynamic studies and other research supported the planning application made to Colchester Borough Council, who took into account many views and gave planning consent. Many other comments were also obtained before the realignment of the sea defence was allowed to proceed.
Counter walls were constructed at each end of Abbotts Hall to ensure that neighbours land was not flooded, the 5 breaches were designed and constructed in October 2002. The first big tide flooded about 120 acres of Abbotts Hall Farm in November 2002.
The costal marshes of Essex are disappearing very rapidly (up to 60% of these marshes have been eroded by the sea in the last 20 years). The project at Abbotts Hall Farm shows that these marshes can be created on low-lying land behind sea walls. The marshes are internationally important for wildlife, particularly migrating birds, which come in their thousands to the Essex Coast. The project has also shown how important these new marshes are as fish nurseries – Abbotts Hall now has large numbers of young bass, herring and 14 other types of fish feeding in the creeks within the marshes. Abbotts Hall has proved to be an internationally important demonstration site to show what can be achieved and information from this project is being used to help plan new projects across the country. It is not to say that this type of coastal realignment is the right option along the whole of the coastline. It is the right option in some places where an expensive sea defence can be replaced by superb marshland.
Abbotts Hall Farm is a working farm, but there are many footpaths for visitors to enjoy. Essex Wildlife Trust has made changes to the farm, such as improving the farm for wildlife. This has included restoration and creation of hedgerows, the addition of field margins around all fields, restoration and creation of ponds, beetlebank strips through the middle of arable fields and planting woodland on the edges and corners of fields.
The choice of crop species has been changed as some crops support more wildlife and some are more resistant to pests. Essex Wildlife Trust is now producing its own bird seed. Some fields towards the Blackwater Estuary have been established as grazing fields and are often grazed by sheep, but they also offer additional habitats for wildlife to flourish including Skylarks.
A new lake was built, at the time of the coastal realignment and visitors can often see a range of ducks and large numbers of Little Egrets roosting. A good variety of Warblers can be seen around the vegetation at the edges.
A whole range of crops are grown and as visitors walk around the fields, there are signs at the side of the fields to show what is being grown.
There are sereral points on your walk where you can get a vision of the historical landscape. The Great Wigborough Henge is on slightly raised area dn reputed to be the site of a wooden henge or round house. There are eight Red Hills on the site which indicate Iron Age/Roman salt production.
Please take time to enjoy the beautiful gardens at Abbotts Hall, which are lovingly and carefully tended by volunteers.