Essex’s largest heathland is awash with purple flowers

Photo: Lily Chambers 

Now is the perfect time of the year to visit Essex’s largest heathland.

Jointly managed by Essex Wildlife Trust and The Friends of Tiptree Heath, this nature reserve is currently alive with vibrant purple flowers as the array of Heather species have flowered in unison.

A nature reserve brimming with wildlife, this heathland is an oasis of serenity located just off the Maldon Road in Tiptree. Essex Wildlife Trust owns a herd of semi-wild Exmoor Ponies who peacefully graze the heath, Sparrowhawks whizz past in pursuit of prey and Buzzards soar high above you, making loud mewing calls whilst scanning the area for their next meal. Small mammals such as Voles and Shrews scuttle amongst the foliage and Grass Snakes bask lazily in the sun. Many insects also rely on this important heathland habitat; Dragonflies, Damselflies and Butterflies such as Red Admirals and the Painted Lady flit around the reserve whilst Bumblebees and several species of Solitary Bees, some found only on heathland habitats like Andrena fuscipes, hurriedly collect pollen. 

Tiptree Heath is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for the three Heather species that grow here; Common Ling, Bell Heather and Cross-leaved Heather. It is the only place in Essex where you will find all three Heather species growing together, often unusual because they all prefer different growing conditions, however Essex Wildlife Trust manages the habitat so that all three are able to thrive. 

The nature reserve covers 24 hectares, 12 of which comprises of open heathland. Heathlands need constant care and management in order to control invasive scrub species from growing out of control. Many management techniques are used to ensure the areas of heather and grassland can thrive; from volunteers with hand tools to tractor-based cutters and diggers and Essex Wildlife Trust’s semi-wild herd of Exmoor Ponies. 

The Heather looks better year on year with new heather establishing elsewhere and more being uncovered when removing scrub. The hard work of Essex Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers, along with The Friends of Tiptree Heath and the lovely Exmoor Ponies has really helped the Heather to flourish.