Uniquely wild, unusually accessible 

Discover the Chelmer & Blackwater Nature Reserve, a wildlife haven in Maldon rescued by locals 


England’s green and pleasant land is in some danger of becoming a distant memory. Few people can doubt that the environment is under threat, with climate change just one danger regularly in the news.  

In the UK, and in Essex, the natural world is certainly under pressure. Since 1970, factors ranging from industrialisation and agricultural practices to the use (and abuse) of pesticides have seen some 60 per cent of species in decline. Some of those threatened tug at the heartstrings more than others; for instance, the number of skylarks is half what it once was.  

Of course, many initiatives large and small aim to combat this trend. One notable initiative, the sort we could do with more of, is the development of the Chelmer & Blackwater Nature Reserve in Maldon. If I say that this is close to Tesco car park, that may create the wrong impression. However, the site – close to six acres – is sandwiched between the River Blackwater and the Chelmer and Blackwater canal. It is an attractive place and very accessible, being just a little way along the river path from the supermarket. 

Great British Life: Wildlife is thriving on the reserveWildlife is thriving on the reserve (Image: Chelmer & Blackwater Nature Reserve)

And it could have been quite different. A group of residents, all either with an interest or expertise in countryside conservation, got together and ‘rescued’ the land, which might otherwise have ended up full of industrial buildings. A Freedom of Information request suggested that the land was originally set aside for recreational use. Quite a campaign, including some crowdfunding, ensued and following the formation of a Community Interest Company (CIC), a kind of body best suited to protecting the purpose it reflects, in January 2022 a deal was done with Tesco and the site’s countryside credentials were preserved. 

What was a threatened and seemingly uninteresting scrubby area is now somewhere wildlife can thrive, and it is becoming a pleasant detour for those passing nearby. Already a wonderful variety of wildlife is being seen, including birds: sedge and reed warblers, blackcap, whitethroat and chiffchaff, and there has been a suspicion of a cuckoo occupying a reed warbler’s nest. Kingfisher enjoy the newly cleared stream that runs through the site and is called the Kings Mere.  

Butterflies seen include green hairstreak and small heath, field voles scurry through the grass as kestrels patrol high above. There are day-flying moths (for example Mother Shipton and burnet companion), dragonflies, grasshoppers, lizards and more. Gradually, the area is being regenerated; grassland overgrown with blackthorn is returning as the scrub is reduced, though not removed completely as it is itself an important habitat.   

Of course, this sort of thing does not just happen. It is time consuming for the people leading the project, and the help of work parties of volunteers has been much appreciated. It is also expensive. Already money has been raised from donors locally and bids for several grants have been successful. But more funds are needed, and it is possible for everyone to help – and to donate.  

Great British Life: Locals are encouraged to get involved with the reserveLocals are encouraged to get involved with the reserve (Image: Chelmer & Blackwater Nature Reserve)

In part, this is a protective measure so that public support is in evidence, and pleasingly, an increasing number of people are signing up as shareholders. The smallest sum to do this is just £5 (though more is welcome and already a few donations have been substantial). If you would like to support the project, it is easy to make contact via chelmerblackwatercic.uk. 

Over the next few months, access will improve, a walkway is scheduled to be built, a bridge will cross the stream and an observation point will allow easy viewing of the wildlife that is increasingly being encouraged to both take up residence or visit the site. Just the other day, the locally rare southern oak bush cricket was spotted, and it is expected that the number of species the site will attract will increase further.  

It is an attractive and fascinating area – uniquely wild yet unusually accessible – and it is changing and improving all the time. It deserves to be better known, is worthy of support, and well worth a look.