15 wild days out in Essex

Saker falcon (falco cherrug) during a desert falconry show in Dubai, UAE.

Enjoy a falconry display - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

From butterfly walks to alpaca trekking, we round up 15 ways for you to get up close and personal to nature right here in Essex 

Words: Holly Louise Eells

Pond-dipping at Essex Wildlife Trust

Pond-dipping at Essex Wildlife Trust - Credit: Essex Wildlife Trust

Essex Wildlife Trust 

The Essex Wildlife Trust aims to protect wildlife and inspire people to relish a lifelong love of nature. ‘With over 80 nature reserves across the county, Essex Wildlife Trust helps everyone get closer to nature – wherever you live,’ says communications officer Lauren Cosson. ‘Explore our nature trails with your family or visit a sheltered hide where you can watch rare birds, creeping reptiles, buzzing insects and little mammals scurrying along.’ The conservation charity also hosts events across the county, including fossil hunting, spending a day at the Nature Nursery, or a wander with its team on a bee and butterfly walk. 


Aardwark encounter at Colchester Zoo

Meet and greet at Colchester Zoo - Credit: Colchester Zoo

Colchester Zoo 

Home to more than 180 beautiful, unusual and rare species of animals, Colchester Zoo has it all for a wild day out. ‘Our Animal Experiences are a great way to see some of the rarest species of the animal kingdom like never before,’ says Mel Dench. ‘We have the ‘purr-fect’ encounter for all ages, from hand-feeding our gentle giraffes to coming nose to nose with our nocturnal aardvarks. A member of our Animal Care Team is on hand to answer any questions so that you can learn everything there is to know about your chosen species and what it’s like to care for endangered creatures.’ 

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Highland cow at Lee Valley Animal Adventure Park

Up close and personal - Credit: Kate Chaplin

Lee Valley Animal Adventure Park 

Located in Waltham Valley, Lee Valley Animal Adventure Park is an exhilarating day out for everyone, not just the children. However, on top of the usual farmyard friends we all like to see, visitors are also treated to a variety of animals from around the world, including exotic reptiles, birds of prey and meerkats. On your visit, expect to participate in thought-provoking animal talks, feeding experiences, interactions with various animals on-site, and try its animal-spotter activity sheet.  Also, it boasts plenty of animal events throughout the year, including its Halloween Festival, Dinosaur Days and Easter egg hunts. 


Cute cat hugging an old man in village outdoor. The man touching the kitty with his hand. They are

Lend a helping paw - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Cinnamon Trust  

Animals and volunteering provide many benefits to both our mental and physical health, so why not combine the two? The Cinnamon Trust is the only specialist national charity that provides volunteers to help elderly and terminally ill people look after their pets. Could you help with dog walks or fostering a pet while someone is in hospital? Appeal administrator Sally Collins says, ‘Volunteers have the dual benefit of knowing that they are helping someone to keep their companion animals with them for as long as possible, as well as giving them the opportunity to have contact with a pet.’ 


All Things Alpaca Chelmsford

Alpaca trekking on the farm - Credit: Ricci Fothergill

All Things Alpaca  

Looking for an innovative experience? All Things Alpaca in Chelmsford offers ‘a range of experiences from alpaca trekking through the beautiful orchards at Lathcoats Farm to a junior farmer experience where you can meet and work with a range of animals – perfect for any young animal lover,’ says founder Rebecca Shipman. ‘All Things Alpaca is my baby; I have a history of zookeeping and have always wanted to run my own animal business. Animals, especially alpacas, are great for people's wellbeing as they help people to leave any stress and worry behind and simply enjoy their time with them.’ 


Iguana at Hopefield Animal Sanctuary Essex

One of Hopefield's residents - Credit: Photography by Anna Marie

Hopefield Animal Sanctuary 

Home to 500 rescued animals, Hopefield Animal Sanctuary in Brentwood cares for sick, unwanted and mistreated animals. ‘We have horses, pigs, sheep and donkeys, as well as more exotic animals like meerkats, raccoons, marmosets, parrots and more!’ says Sophie Kemp, office manager. ‘By visiting us, not only do you get to enjoy a wonderful day out, but you're helping make a real difference; all admission fees go directly towards the care of our animals. We have a variety of events this year, including Kid's Mega Fun Weekend (July 23-24), Summer Fun Weekend (August 27-28) and our Dog Show (September 24).’ 


Lambs at Hasty’s Adventure Farm

Adorable lambs - Credit: Hasty’s Adventure Farm

Hasty’s Adventure Farm  

Looking for some farm fun? Family-run business Hasty’s Adventure Farm in Clacton-On-Sea has created great outdoor amusement for everyone to enjoy. ‘A true gem on the Essex coast,’ says the Hatsy’s Adventure Farm team. ‘We have acres of outdoor space for families to enjoy and make memories together. Our animals are in keeping with traditional farming, with sheep, lambs, pygmy goats, Golden Guernsey goats, Anglo Nubian goats, pigs, chickens, chicks, turkeys, alpacas, and calves. All our animals are super-friendly and love nothing more than coming up to say hello.  During the school holidays, we run staff-led feeding sessions too.’ 


The shark tunnel at Sealife Adventure Southend

The shark tunnel at Sealife Adventure - Credit: Suzanne Rose, Visit Essex 

Sealife Adventure  

Who wants to go under the sea? Explore beautiful underwater zones at family-friendly Sealife Adventure in Southend-On-Sea. Senior manager Jonathon Humphreys says, ‘Sealife Adventure is the UK’s premier Zooquarium, with a host of fascinating animal friends ranging from meerkats, otters and monkeys through to sharks and other fish – there’s even our Pre-historic Pangaea Adventure, complete with dino friends. It is a fantastic place to learn about some of the most amazing creatures that inhabit the planet – and loads of fun as well.’ Annual passes give a full 12 months access for just £15 – covering all the school holidays. 


child with tortoise

Tortoise petting - Credit: Exotic Explorers

Exotic Explorers 

Award-winning Essex-based mobile zoo Exotic Explorers has more than 70 exotic species to educate children and adults about the wonders of animals. Founded by Benjamin Gregory, Exotic Explorers boasts lizards, snakes, birds of prey and tarantulas, and it caters to personal experiences, higher education, schools, SEN and more. ‘We are not entertainers,’ says managing director Pur Plaza. ‘We don’t give animals enough credit for how important they are for our planet. It is a great opportunity for people to get a bit closer to animal life, learn how to take care of them and how these species live in the wild.’  


Saker falcon (falco cherrug) during a desert falconry show in Dubai, UAE.

Enjoy a falconry display - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Call of the Wild 

Take a walk on the wild side with Essex’s new zoological park, Call of the Wild in South Woodham Ferrers. On the former site of Tropical Wings, its mission is to inspire future generations to protect and conserve the planet. ‘We share this planet with some extraordinary species and ecosystems that we must work together to protect. In doing so, we must create an awareness and appreciation to facilitate support for conservation that is currently under threat.’ The park boasts many experiences, from meeting lemurs and birds of prey to its VIP experiences where you join the keepers inside the enclosure! 


Chicken at Wanderers Haven Animal Sanctuary

Feathered friends - Credit: Wanderers Haven Animal Sanctuary

Wanderers Haven Animal Rescue 

There are many animal charities across the county that need our help and support, including Wanderers Haven Animal Sanctuary. Based in Upminster, this non-profit animal charity has many events across the year to help raise vital funds for the animals that come into its care, including horses, cats, goats and chickens. On July 19 (12 pm-4.30 pm) it is hosting an open day where you will get chance to visit all the lovely animals at the sanctuary. Also, don’t miss its dog show on August 6 for an exciting day with your dog raising funds for this great cause.  


Action shot of a frog leaping from a natural pond.

Explore our pond life - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Beth Chatto Plants and Gardens 

In Essex, there are so many inspiring ways to connect with nature and support wildlife. The world-renowned Beth Chatto Plants and Gardens near Colchester was created by the late award-winning plantswoman Beth Chatto OBE. Here they host a wide range of educational workshops and courses for adults and children. Young people’s events include: Wild Scientists, a day for young scientists to explore some in-depth naturalist activities, Summer Pond Patrol, a summer morning delving into the busy life of fascinating pond creatures, or perhaps the Brilliant Bugs Safari, where you bring your catches to life with some large-scale outdoor painting.  


Pygmy Goat or Dwarf Goat, capra hircus, 3 Months Old Baby Goat standing on Dandelions

Pygmy goats - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Barleylands Farm Park & Village 

Barleylands Farm Park and Village in Billericay is a fantastic animal playground for you and your family to enjoy all year round. What can you expect to do and see? Well, be sure to say hello and get close to its farmyard friends, including Bagot goats, sheep, lamb, nanny goats and kids, pigs, equines and their Berkshire pig, Polly. But the animal fun doesn’t stop there, watch out for birds of prey displays, meet the reptiles or why not book yourself in to one of its VIP experiences and spend time with one of their expert farmers? 


Del Boy the donkey at Redwings Horse Sanctuary

Del Boy the donkey - Credit: Redwings Horse Sanctuary

Redwings Horse Sanctuary

Redwings is the largest horse sanctuary in the UK, and one of its centres, Ada Cole in Epping, is home to 80 horses, ponies and donkeys, including cheeky Del Boy, rock ‘n’ roll pony Elvis and Redwings’ tiniest resident, Teeny Tucker! ‘We’re delighted to announce that Redwings Adoption Star birthday parties are back,’ says Leanne Plumtree from Redwings. ‘Supporters will be able to come to Redwings Ada Cole Visitor Centre over four days to give everyone a chance to celebrate their sponsored horse's birthday.’ Visit the website for more information. 


Red-necked wallaby

Wonderful wallaby - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

White Elm Petting Farm 

Family-run White Elm Petting Farm in Chelmsford is home to 100 animals, including pygmy goats, alpacas, sheep, fallow deer, pigs, goats, rabbits, guinea pigs, miniature ponies, donkeys and wallabies! If you want to get up close to the lovely animals, there is bucket feed available – just remember to place the food flat on your hand! For the kids, there’s a small sensory area and an outdoor play area, with a digger sandpit with sit-on diggers and a pedal tractor track. The grown-ups will enjoy visiting the tea room and garden centre to buy some nature-friendly plants. 


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History of Colchester Zoo: https://www.greatbritishlife.co.uk/things-to-do/nostalgia/60-year-history-of-colchester-zoo-9151692

Ultimate guide to Southend: https://www.greatbritishlife.co.uk/lifestyle/ultimate-guide-to-southend-essex-9118930