BNA Essex Reports

BNA ESSEX at Sandford Millstream 19th July 2019, Freshwater Wildlife

This event was led Ken Biggins MBNA with support from our President Roger Tabor FBNAhc, & we were delighted to be joined by Twitter’s own @PondManUK Neil Phillips who brought along his mobile photo-aqaria to take “underwater” pictures. It was a great pleasure to meet up with him & to see him in action. The millstream below Sandford Mill, near Chelmsford, is a great location to sample species at, but not the easiest of places to find! However well worth the trip, & hot day. The stars of the dipping were Miller’s Thumbs, fish with broad heads otherwise known as bullheads. The name Miller’s Thumb comes from how millers tested the flour to see if it had been ground fine enough by the stones by rubbingsome in the palm of one hand with the thumb of another. A lifetime of doing that broadens the end of the thumb, like the broad heads of the fish. The link with millers is that this species is commonly found in milltail streams & splash pools below watermills as due to the tumbling of the water at the wheel & gate it is higher in oxygen than upstream of the mill, oxygenated conditions the fish prefer. Neil found some small fish leaches.

BNA ESSEX at National BNA Conference 11th May 2019, at Forest School, Snaresbrook

BNA Essex was well represented at this year’s National BNA Conference which had the brilliant theme of “Protecting Our Marine Wildlife”. We welcome new members of the Branch Dr Tom Cameron who became recognised at the event as an Hon Fellow, & Alice Lown who became a Fellow, both of the University of Essex & both working in marine biology. We also welcome Fiona Hutchings to the Branch, she is also an active member of Essex Field Club. We congratulate existing member of the Branch Tricia Moxey who became recognised as a Fellow. Other BNA Essex members who can be see in the pictures below are Tony Boniface FBNA examining leaves, Ken Biggins MBNA who led the pond dipping, Alan Purdy taking part in owl pellet analysis, Gerry Johnson MBNA who put on a display for the Essex Birdwatching Soc, Dr Chris Gibson FBNA (bottom right) who led the botanising in the Forest. Branch member Sara Biggins ABNA led the gowned procession in the afternoon.

Dr Tom Cameron HonFBNA can be seen giving one of the Marine lectures, in part discussing restorative work that he & Alice are involved in that may save our Native Oyster. Alice has mapped the distribution of the Native Oyster in the Colne, Blackwater, Roach & Crouch Essex Esturies MCZ,  so further congratulations, for shortly after the conference she became Dr Alice Lown. Alice & Tom (top left) are standing by Alice’s display presentation alongside the display mounted by Kent & Essex Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authority (based in Brightlingsea) who have assisted Tom & Alice’s work. One picture shows Fiona receiving her certificate from our new BNA President, Roger Tabor HonFBNA (Roger is also our Branch President). Also taking part from Essex were a number of Essex Countryside & Wildlife Adult Education course members (based in Chelmsford), which is affiliated to the BNA, plus some WREN Conservation Group members who are active naturalists in the area around Forest School. Our thanks as a Branch to Forest School for all the help & support it gives BNA in holding its conferences there.


BNA Essex: Spring in Cockaynes Wood

Visit to the fantastic Cockaynes Wood led 13th April 2019 by Dr Chris Gibson. The location is a mosaic of ancient woodland, stream, lakes plus sandy areas as part was a former sand extraction site. An exposed mounded slope of sand descending from woodland has become colonised by the colonial solitary bee the Vernal Colletes (or Spring Mining Bee) Colletes cunicularius. This species in the UK was purely on  the West coast (Wales to Cumbria) on old dunes, but here the former extraction site suits it perfectly. The wetter areas of the site provide willows whose flowers power the early flight period of the bee (March-May), our April visit was perfect timing to see the bees.

In the woodland by the stream Chris pointed out the remarkable flowered Moschatel, otherwise known as Town Hall Clock due to its flowers on each side of the flower head (plus one on top!)


Coastal Birding Boat Trip, Over-wintering Wildfowl & Waders 23rd February 2019

Fabulous boat trip lots of birds on the Essex Sunshine Coast at Brightlingsea in brilliant sunny weather, – for February, but everyone dressed properly! Combined event by BNA Essex with Essex Countryside & Wildlife course (based in Chelmsford & affiliated to the BNA). It was led by Gerry Johnson MBNA (above) & Roger Tabor HonFBNA (below). Gerry is a Branch member & a course member of EC&W, plus he is chairman of Essex Birdwatching Society, Roger is our President. The boat was skippered along Brightlingsea Creek by Nigel Taylor, who is a BNA Essex Branch member as well as a trustee of Brightlingsea’s Harbour Commissioners (it was a Brightlingsea Harbour boat).

We had a full boat (numbers limited for this one!) & saw around 1,000 Brent geese, some hundreds of oystercatchers, a flock of grey plovers (can identify from black armpits in flight!), some 50 curlew, godwit, turnstone, avocets, redshank, lapwing, herring gull, shellduck, lesser black backed gull, a couple of cormorant, wigeon, little egret, teal, mallard, crow, overhead 3 buzzard, kestrel, rook, wood pigeon. Very enjoyable trip, rounded off by a cafe lunch at the “Coach House”.

Forest School Talk -“Forest!”

On Thursday 4th October 2018, Roger Tabor, BNA national chairman & BNA Essex president gave a talk at Forest School, Snaresbrook, in Epping Forest, to pupils & staff of the school plus some pupils from a nearby school titled “Forest!”. He talked about the arrival of Royal Forests & forest law with William the Conqueror & the changes affecting the original Essex Forest & its subsequent fragments, Writtle Forest, Hatfield Forest, Waltham Forest then Hainault Forest & particularly Epping Forest. He talked of coppicing & pollarding, & commoner’s rights of pannage, grazing & lopwood, & the survival of Epping Forest.



Nature Spotting for Families at the Lozenge Nature Area 2o18

Bank Holiday Monday 27th August 2018: Once again numbers of youngsters & their families were able to take part in this annual event held by the BNA Essex Branch with the active help of members of the Cinque Port Liberty of Brightlingsea, as part of the Brightlingsea Town Show at the Lozenge Nature Area with the agreement of the Brightlingsea Town Council. We have run this for a number of years & youngsters & families that are both local & from further afield take part in finding the plant species & some insect species that they have as photos on the sheets given to them in the Lozenge, & then marking on the map where they found them. Its a great way for youngsters (& mums, dads & grandparents!) to be able to begin to become familiar with identifying plants & insects. (BNA naturalists gave help when needed). The most successful youngsters (in different age catagories can win natural history prizes too!).

Seine Netting Essex Coast

On 11th August 2018, BNA Essex Branch Marine Event was led by BNA’s Roger Tabor with Dr Tom Cameron of Essex University Marine Dept. & Rob Dyer & Colm O’Laoi of Kent & Essex Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authorities. Members could see seine net sampling in action on the estuary foreshore at Brightlingsea Creek, & have the great opportunity for hands on identification of the gathered marine species. Young seabass Dicentrarchus labrax featured, bass spawn offshore, then the young fish move close inshore in estuaries for a couple of years or migrate back & forth until adult at 3 years. Members could see how well armed even the young seabass are, spines raise in the 1st dorsal fin plus there are more spines on the lower edge of the gill covers. (There are very strict restrictions on catching seabass, but this was legal population sampling with Kent & Essex IFCA & Essex University. Once caught for their welfare they were put straight into an oxygenating tank, then examined & returned live straight back to the sea).

Examining seine net catch

Sand Smelt Atherina boyeri alt. presbyter were also caught, which are small, slender, silver fish that have a silver stripe ao their sides. They like inshore warm waters of southern Britain’s etuaries & saltmarshes in the summer (but move offshore in the winter).

Moon Jellyfish Aurelia aureta with distinctive 4 ‘C’ shaped gonads viewed from above, plus dangling oral arms armed with stinging cells for very small prey. Roger spotted the less recorded Crystal Jellyfish Aequorea vitrina.

Roger then sampled with a hand net the faboulous marine isopod Idotea linearis at the top of high tide over a sandy beach. Its a sublittoral species but has been noted as occasionally cast up & swimming near the water’s edge over sand.

Idotea linearis at Brightlingsea, (Roger Tabor) BNA Essex

The BNA Essex Branch is grateful for the great support by Tom, Rob & Colm & the University of Essex & Kent & Essex IFCA.








BNA AGM & Nature Day, Perivale Wood, Perivale

21st July 2018: Some BNA Essex members travelled from various parts of the county over to west London (mainly by Tube) to take part with other BNA members in the AGM & Nature Day at the fascinating ancient wood plus grassland habitat surrounded by suburbia. The wood is owned by the Selbourne Society who were excellent hosts & kindly provided food. BNA Essex Branch’s Dr Chris Gibson led one of the walks (see pictures). Our branch President Roger Tabor as the then BNA Chairman, chaired the AGM meeting. There were also talks in the Selborne Society’s excellent new straw constructed Bluebell Centre. The weather was glorious, as was much of the summer 2018.

BNA Essex Branch visited by BNA South Yorkshire Branch 27-30th June 2018

This was a glorious series of summertime coastal events at Mersea Island & Brightlingsea by the Colne Estuary. The rich wildlife opportunities of this area attracted the BNA South Yorkshire Branch to visit & stay over in Essex in joint events with the BNA Essex Branch.

Kimberley Fereaud, Tim Gardiner & Roger Tabor
Roger Tabor & group East Marsh Brightlingsea

On 27th June Roger Tabor joined our visitors at the Lozenge Nature Area at Brightlingsea, the on the following morning of 28th BNA Essex’s Dr Tim Gardiner, of the Environment Agency with his colleague Kimberley Fargeaud, led our visitors along the seawalls & foldings searching for crickets & bees. In the afternoon Roger Tabor took the group out onto the East Marsh saltmarsh & oyster pits beside Brightlingsea Creek looking at saltmarsh plants & oysters. A Great Green Bush Cricket was found in the seawall foldings.

Great Green Bush Cricket from seawall

On 29th June the group went across the Colne to East Mersea shore & Cudmore Grove Country Park, finding Bee Wolves on the shore & in the cliffs, & using nets & bat detectors to locate crickets in the grasslands.

Bee Wolf on East Mersea shore
East Mersea shore BNA group

In the evening BNA Essex & BNA South Yorkshire jointly hosted with Friends of All Saints a Batwatch (& Creatures of the Night!) open event, at which over 60 people took part at the fantastic medieval All Saints Church, Brightligsea. While there was still light Roger Tabor showed people the rare Lesser Calamint which the church has been protecting. Then he with BNA S Yorkshire chairman Steve Rutherford & BNA Essex’s Dr Chris Gibson talked in the church about the local species of bats & moths (followed by refreshments from Friends of All Saints). Then as it was dark enough & the bats became active, a fantastic spectacle took place as bats streamed out wheeling about in & around the south porch so they could be both seen & heard by the numerous bat detectors. Mainly Soprano Pipistrelles, some Pipistrelles, some Brown Long-eared plus a single Noctule delighted everyone. By the base of the tower Chris ran a moth trap & then to cap it all a peregrine falcon circled the chuch & settled on the roof!

BNA Batwatch All Saints Brightlingsea

A fantastic series of events enjoyed by all, with excellent natural history!






Springfield Lock, Chelmsford, Invertebrate Sampling Chelmer Canal

28th April 2018 Ken Biggins led a ‘pond-dipping’ event of the Chelmer & Blackwater Canal below the Springfield Basin beside the historic Springfield Lock bridge from the towpath staging. We were joined by distinguished naturalist & BNA member Tricia Moxey. Although not far from the confluence with the R Chelmer it is a watercourse with little flow, but remarkable it had a good diversity of species. Pictures show caddis fly larva with case, damselfly nymph, water snails & identification .