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The weblog below is for naturalists to use to report interesting sightings, ask questions, report on field meetings and generally post pictures and any information or questions generally relevant in some way to the wildlife and geology of Essex. You will need to register and be logged-on to post to the forum, and you need to upload pictures first, for use in posts. Find out more

Wed 26th March 2014 15:16 by Graham Smith
Linnet's Cottage
Mary – Linnet’s Cottage is still going strong. It is now Grade 2 Listed as a Dengie Marsh-man’s Cottage – as the previous tenant found out when he replaced the deteriorating roof slates with plastic ones. English Heritage was quickly on his case and he was made to replace them with genuine Welsh Slate. Fortunately, he is well off!

Bradwell Bird Observatory hut 2 Copyright: Graham Smith Cottage and Hut ca.1970. Kevin Bruce

Strangely, although I have been visiting the area for 49 years I have no modern photos of the cottage but it is much as it has always been. The aerial photo shown here, which was taken in the early 1970s, depicts the cottage with Bradwell Bird Observatory Hut in the foreground. The Observatory has been around since 1953 but its HQ was originally in an old Nissan Hut in the nearby farmyard; it then moved to an ex-RAF hall in the village before a purpose built hut was erected in this position in 1967. During the 1970s it was flooded by high tides twice in five years. Nowadays we receive due notice of dangerous tides from the Environment Agency but there were no such warnings then. I arrived at the hut late one Friday evening to find that the tide had come and gone, leaving a high water mark at around the two foot level on the walls. Among the debris attached to it were five species of seaweed while I identified the remains of a dozen different types of shellfish embalmed in the two inches of estuarine mud that covered the floor. The rest of that evening was spent on my hands and knees attempting to soak up the liquid ooze using old, torn up blankets from the bunks. After a few hours I succeeded in transferring most of it from the floor into buckets and from there back to the saltings from whence it came but by this time both my trousers and sweatshirt were virtually indistinguishable from the blankets used to mop up the mud. Needing a cuppa, I pulled an easy chair close to the decrepit paraffin heater which was our only means of heating the hut but within minutes found myself enveloped in huge clouds of steam! It was a bitterly cold night so I decided to sleep in front of the fire; not a wise decision as after several hours of breathing in paraffin fumes I awoke with the mother of all hangovers and spent the next few hours with my head over the sink. Happy days! 

Bradwell Bird Observatory hut 3 Copyright: Graham Smith

Needless to say the comforts on offer have increased along with the age of the membership! The second photo shows the hut as it is now, having been moved to a slightly higher position next to the cottage in 1980. Even so, it only escaped flooding by a couple of inches during last December’s tidal surge and the pond in the foreground was swamped with seawater. We are currently dredging and re-filling it.

Linnet's Cottage Bradwell 2 Copyright: Graham Smith

The final photo shows hut and cottage as viewed from the saltmarsh in front of them. Both are tucked away among the trees that you will see on the right when approaching the Chapel from Eastlands Farm. The Observatory is usually manned on a Sunday or Wednesday and so If you – or anybody else – is in the area give us a call – you will be sure to get a cup of tea!

Sun 23rd March 2014 22:58 by Robert Smith
Mill Green Common - first micro-moths
A final mini work session this afternoon at this small patch of heathland saw a pair of Song Thrushes commanding the centre of the common and the call of a Chiffchaff. Between heavy hail showers spent in the car, I saw the first of the spring micro-moths - a few newly-emerged Eriocrania subpurpurella.  Very common on the edges of oak woodland, but displaying quite stunning gold mottling.Eriocrania subpurpurella - MGC Copyright: Robert Smith
Sun 23rd March 2014 22:35 by Robert Smith
Jermaines Wood
Jermaines Wood is a small, sloping woodland situated between Tylers Common and the M25.sign - recently gone missing Copyright: Robert Smith It is fundamentally an ancient, once-coppiced wet woodland, with streams running along two edges.  Nowadays, the deciduous trees, particularly Ash, seem perfectly capable of felling themselves and there is a lot of dieback and a substantial coverage of deadwood.Jermaines Wood - deadwood Copyright: Robert Smith Perhaps this feature caused Essex County Council to restock the central part of the wood in the 1980s, but fallen wood has still persisted.  Planted trees include Dogwood (Cornus sp.) and Birch along a central ride that was mown annually, but this practice ceased possibly 10 years ago, and the ride began to scrub over. As the Essex Rangers now concentrate their efforts on nearby Weald Country Park, I have taken it upon myself, with the knowledge of ECC and the rangers, to try and keep the ride open.Jermaines Wood - ride Copyright: Robert Smith This involves a lot of bramble clearing, coppicing the Dogwood and layering Hawthorn and Blackthorn.  This winter, I have opened up a small coup, as the SINC/LoWS citation notes ‘small glades’ as being a key feature of this woodland.  Botany isn’t my strong point, but I have noted occasional Male Ferns and this year uncovered a straggly Hart’s-tongue Fern.  There are patches of Pendulous Sedge, and I believe Green-ribbed Sedge and Wavy Hair grass, both of which can be heavily grazed by the indigenous rabbit population.  There is some evidence of Muntjac Deer grazing too, so I cover up any larger stools that I have cut down.  Also present are Marsh Thistle, Teasel, Bluebell, Dogs Mercury, Cuckoo Pint, Hypericum sp. Self-Heal and increasing Moschatel,Jermaines Wood - Moschatel Copyright: Robert Smith which was just coming into flower today. Bird species seen recently have been Redwing, Long-tail Tits and today the first Chiffchaffs and a Treecreeper.  A single male Adder was seen in 2012.Jermaines Wood - Adder Copyright: Robert Smith My butterfly transect finishes through this wood and I have recorded Purple Hairstreak here and White-letter Hairstreak in the few elms at the top, but most spectacularly a male Silver-washed Fritillary in 2010, probably just taking shelter during a very windy day as I have not seen one here since. There were a couple of Dark-edged Beeflies along the ride and also the early hoverfly, Eristalis pertinax.Eristalis pertinax Copyright: Robert Smith As I walked along the bridleway between the wood and the motorway embankment, I noticed a few Cuckooflower plants already in flower and a large patch of Colt'sfoot already 'going over' so the season appears early after the mild winter.
Sat 22nd March 2014 18:24 by Mary Smith
Thank you again, Graham.
Yes, I am out there too.  And utterly fascinating again.

I wondered if the Linnet's cottage is still there? We think not, as we have been to that area a number of times over the years and never seen an isolated cottage like that.

The number of geese shot is utterly astonishing! How on earth did they get all these dead birds to market, I wonder.  No lorries or containers on them in those days!

Fri 21st March 2014 20:52 by Peter Harvey
Yes, I'm out there Graham. Your post is fascinating.
Fri 21st March 2014 14:00 by Graham Smith
Linnet's Cottage
Linnet's Cottage Bradwell Copyright: Graham Smith Linnet's Cottage ca 1960. Kevin Bruce in doorway

If there is anyone out there I thought you might like to see these old photographs of Bradwell St Peter’s and Linnet’s Cottage. They were taken in the 1950s by Kevin Bruce, a local historian and founder member (in 1953) of Bradwell Bird Observatory, and he has kindly allowed me to use them here. The cottage was built around 1798 by the Admiralty in order to house two naval officers - a lieutenant and a midshipman – whose job it was, along with two ordinary seamen, to man a signalling station on high ground nearby. The boredom engendered by the site’s isolation, coupled with having to live cheek by jowl in cold cramped quarters, not to mention the ever present threat of being laid low by the dreaded Essex ague (a form of malaria) must have made this the posting from hell. A surviving letter from November 1810 written by one Lieutenant John Leckie to their Lordships about the midshipman under his command states that:

“…….he went from the station without asking leave and stayd all night, did not return until nine this Next morning, and was then obliged to go to bed; I talked to him on that business, and he told me that he did not know that he was supposed to ask leave but promised to do so no more, on Thursday last he asked leave to go up to the village which he did, on the next morning he asked leave again which I granted him, and last evening he went away again without leave, and did not return again until one past ten, this forenoon and so drunk, that he went to bed immediately, he is without exception the most stupid man I ever had or saw……..”

Winters must have been fun in such company! At the end of the Napoleonic wars the signal station was closed down. The Linnet family are thought to have taken up residence in the middle of the century and remained in occupation until 1958 when the last member of their family to live there, Walter Linnet, died at the age of 80.

Walter Linnet and Rod Larner Copyright: Graham Smith Walter Linnet with Rod Larner, another founder member of the Obs

The Linnet’s were among dozens of professional wildfowlers (or Marsh Men as they were then known) along the Dengie coast who made a living from shooting wildfowl and waders, fishing, ‘cockling’, and harvesting Marsh Samphire and other products of the estuary. Walter and his wife raised eight children in this tiny cottage and it is rumoured that the babes in arms were put to bed in boxes in the cupboards. From the moment they could toddle much of their lives would have been spent out of doors. Walter’s father is likely to have been among the thirty-two punt gunners who are reputed to have fired simultaneously into a flock of Brent Geese on the Dengie flats in around 1860, killing at least 704 of them. Several other huge bags of geese were also reported from the area at around this time. The same era saw over 3000 Lapwing eggs sent to market one summer from a single Norfolk estate alone, not just the original clutch of each pair being taken but all the replacement clutches as well. They didn’t allow sustainability to get in the way of short term gain in those days either! 

Bradwell St Peter's Copyright: Graham Smith

The photo above depicts the cottage and nearby St Peter's Chapel as I remember them when I first visited the area in 1965. The ditch in the foreground was an old tank trap, built during the 1939-45 War and was known as Twite Ditch on account of the Twite, or Mountain Linnets, that used to flock there to drink in the winter months. Cattle still grazed the meadows in those days but in the late 1960s progressive son took over from backward father and within a few months the meadow had been ploughed, the ditch filled in and all the many hedgerows on the farm grubbed out. Even a solitary bramble bush was not spared and one day I watched a bulldozer trundle all the way from the farm and make an almost comically frenzied assault on it - like something out of Monty Python. It made me wonder who or what the driver had in mind while attacking it!

Anyway, spring is still progressing well on many fronts. At Blue House Farm the Lapwings are now on territory on Round Marsh - the main wader breeding area - including this fine male. With a crest like this it is no wonder he has the pick on the territories and the females!

Round Marsh Blue House Farm Copyright: Graham Smith Round Marsh, Blue House Farm - John Lilley

Lapwing male Copyright: Graham Smith King of the island! - John Lilley

It has been a great spring so far for butterflies and we counted 45 Small Tortiseshells and 39 Peacocks between St Lawrence Bay and Marshhouse Outfall during our monthly WeBS count on 16th. There were also over 300 Black Oil Beetles along one short stretch of south facing seawall at Sandbeach Outfall on 9th; so many in fact that it was difficult to avoid treading on them. For such a specialised insect it is remarkable how successful they are along this coast. At Blue House a Red Kite was seen on 5th and the first Wheatear moved through on 19th while we caught this Essex RDB species, a Dotted Chestnut, also on 5th. Grassland with trees appears to be its preferred habitat but no-one seems quite sure what its caterpillars feed on. A much commoner but no less beautiful species is the Oak Beauty, one of many moths caught in the garden kin the past fortnight.

Dotted Chestnut 3 Copyright: Graham Smith

Oak Beauty 2 Copyright: Graham Smith

All in all the season is flowing well, certainly compared to 2013 when three months of Russian easterlies set everyhing back by a month or more. I doubt whether the smaller inhabitants of North Heath EWT Reserve, Little Baddow will be having a very good spring though, especially if they encounter these Wood Ants, one of dozens of nests that were slowly coming back to life as we worked around them on the first day of the month.

Wood Ants Copyright: Graham Smith



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