We met Mark Prina, reserve manager at Foxearth Meadows, on a lovely, warm summer's day and only a little bit later after misreading the directions slightly. The reserve is owned by A Rocha, which are a Christian charity working for the protection and restoration of the natural world, or who 'care for creation' as Mark put it. The land was donated to them by Maureen Morris a few years earlier, wife of Keith Morris and Mark and a few volunteers have been developing the site as a wild space with a particular focus on creating habitats for dragonflies and damsel flies. They have counted 22 different species on the site, which is about half of the amount that live in the UK. On our walk round we saw several specimens including brown hawker, common blue damsel, darter and a couple of willow emeralds which are new arrivers to Britain.
When Keith and Maureen acquired the site it mainly consisted of a couple of disused gravel pits on a flood plain adjacent to the river, but Keith dug quite a few ponds and encouraged wildlife to inhabit the area. You can see most of the ponds as you walk around on the paths and the two gravel pits now form well developed large ponds with a plethora of insects and fish to be found. It is Mark's plan to reinstate traditional grazing on the site in order to manage some of the plant growth and to keep it from reaching a successional stage. He's been talking to Essex County Council about using the Essex Legacy Grazing Service http://www.essexgrazing.org.uk/, possibly using Red Poll cattle. Recently, and rather timely, he has also reignited a previous connection with farmers who used to graze the land, so a return to traditional uses of the land looks to be achievable.
We passed through the low grassy areas to eventually reach the river and it's banks on the northern edge of the site. Mark has been using a mink raft in order to see if any are in the area, along with any other similar animals. He opened the device and it had a plethora of foot prints embedded in the clay. In fact there were too many to clearly identify many of them, but more interestingly there were discarded Signal Crayfish parts inside the raft, which suggested that a young otter had been feeding inside it. He also showed us evidence of crayfish being eaten at other locations along the river, indicating otters may well be preferring this catch over their usual choice of fish. This also ties in well with the Colchester Piscatorial Society's finds in that chub and otter seem to be living happily next door to each other.
We passed many lovely spots along the bank and eventually arrived at the old disused railway bridge, which although just outside of their land makes a great vantage point for spotting wildlife, and the occasional kingfisher, although we didn't see one this morning. Before we turned and headed for home Mark explained how a new cut in the river had been made when the railway had been built, and even though the water had been diverted through here the old river channel still existed. What's more, it was currently dry, only filling with water during floods, and we took the opportunity to stand in the bottom of the river bed, Mark in Essex and Stuart in Suffolk, as the county boundary hadn't been moved and remained here.
All in all we had a great walk and chat with Mark and we were witness to the abundance of wildlife that inhabits the area. You too can walk around the site as it is mostly made from public footpaths. Find out more about Foxearth Meadows here. Below are some of the things that you may see.
reed warbler nest
6 species of warbler
signal cray fish
purple spiked dock
great willow herb
reed canary grass
common water plantain
common club rush
black poplar (poor man's oak)