Biodiversity

Nature Symphony

The Middlewick Ranges is rich in biodiversity, yet we are at serious risk of loosing this incredibly important greenspace, home to many species of wildlife, including rare and important species of flora and fauna. We have surveyed, recorded and submitted records of the species we have found. Below are some examples of the species that depend on the wick.  

Fantastic Birds

The wick is home to many birds, including protected species such as Skylarks who are known to nest on grassland across the Wick, as well as in the fields south of Birch Brook; and nightingales who nest in the nearby woodland, particularly Birch Brook Local Wildlife Site which is directly adjacent to Middlewick Ranges. The area seems to be part of a green fly corridor from the Colne to Abberton.
Locals have seen many birds here, from a pair of Egyptian Geese flying over to a very handsome Blue Indian Ring-Necked Parakeet – making the Wick its home, who seems to have found his way from somewhere. 
Below are some examples we have collectively put together:

Sparrow Hawkes

Buzzards

Kestrels

Tawney Owls

Hen Harriers

Herons

Woodpeckers

Pheasants

Partridges

Fieldfares

Gulls

Geese

Egyptian Geese

Woodcock

Wheatear

Whinchats

Lapwings

Blackcaps

Goldcrests

Kites

Long Tailed Tits

Whitethroats

Blue Tits

Great Tits

Cuckoos

Wagtails

Goldfinches

Redwings

House Martins

Sparrows

Chiffchaffs

Carrion Crows

Coal Tits

Jays

Jackdaws

Rooks

Magpies

Starlings

Blackbirds

Robins

Pidgeons

Turtle Doves

Collared Doves

Chaffinches

Hawfinches

Sky Larks

Song Thrushes

Nightingales

Swallows

Swifts

Wrens

Reptiles

The site presents suitable habitats for reptiles. Surveys carried out by the Save the Middlewick Ranges group revealed the presence of ‘exceptional’ populations of common lizard and ‘good’ population of slow worm. These species were found in all surveyed areas. Low numbers of grass snakes were also recorded; these were found close to the site margins and to gardens in neighbouring residential areas. Middlewick easily meets the criteria of ‘Key Reptile Site’ under the Froglife/CIEEM guidance. 

Common Lizards

Sand Lizards

Grass Snakes

Adders

Slow Worms

Spiders

In Britain there are over 650 species of spiders – most of these are small and secretive and consequently overlooked by the majority of people. However, we have been able to spot a few different types on the Wick. Starting with the Neoscona adianta! 

Neoscona adianta

Pardosa monticola

False Widow Spider

Amphibians

Frogs

Common Toads

Newts

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Mammals

The habitat provided by the wick is undoubtedly suitable for small mammals another key indicator of biodiversity.

Wood Mice

Mole

Field Mice

Weasels

Field vole

Bank vole

Stoats

Pygmy Shrews

Brown Rats

Voles

Grey Squirrels

Common Shrews

Roe Deers

Muntjacs

Scientific name: Muntiacus reevesi

The small, Chinese muntjac deer was introduced to Woburn Park in Bedfordshire at the start of the 20th century and rapidly spread into the surrounding area. It is now a common animal across South East England and can be found in woodland, parkland and even gardens. Muntjac deer are notorious browsers, eating the shoots from shrubs, as well as woodland herbs and Brambles. Male Muntjacs have short, unbranched antlers that slope backwards, and a pair of long canine teeth. They breed all year-round, but females usually only have one kid at a time. Muntjac deer are also known as ‘barking deer’ because of their dog-like calls.

(Muntjac Deer | Essex Wildlife Trust, 2021)

Moles

Scientific name: Talpa europaea

Moles are very rarely seen as they spend most of their lives underground. They are stocky animals, with a wedge-shaped body and short tail. They use their spade-like paws to dig tunnels and hunt for their favourite meal of earthworms. They also like to eat underground grubs that would usually feed off crops, so moles can help to control unwanted visitors!
By digging up the earth, moles help make the soil healthier by aerating it. This allows more types of plants to grow, which in turn feed more insects. Not only this, their tunnels improve soil drainage, which helps stop flooding and huge puddles forming on the ground.
Moles truly are the unsung heroes of the animal world!
(Mole | Essex Wildlife Trust, 2021)

Rabbits

Scientific name: Oryctolagus cuniculus

Most people have spotted these adorable animals grazing in long grasses looking for their favourite foods. They were first introduced to the UK by the Normans for food and fur but are now a common sight for many. They live in large groups in underground burrow systems known as ‘warrens’. Female rabbits, called ‘does’ produce one litter of between three and seven babies every month during the breeding season – that’s a lot of little ones! Rabbits make a tasty snack for stoats, buzzards, polecats and red foxes, which is why having a warren to hide in for shelter is so important.

(Rabbit | Essex Wildlife Trust, 2021)

Bats

Common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus)
Soprano pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus)
Noctule (Nyctalus noctula)
Barbastelle (Barbastelle barbastellus)
Daubenton’s bat (Myotis daubentonii)

All UK bats are nocturnal, feeding on midges, moths and other flying insects that they find in the dark by using echolocation.

 

The findings of this report represent a limited ‘snapshot’ of bat activity within the site arising from a 2 man, 2-hour single visit survey, confined to a relatively small part of the site containing limited habitat diversity.

 

Of these, common pipistrelle and soprano pipistrelle were the species most frequently detected and widespread within the survey area. Both species were also observed foraging along hedge-lines and scrub, and over adjoining open grassland.

 

Noctule were also widespread but less frequently detected; recordings of barbastelle and Daubentons were uncommon and restricted to the east of the site close to mature tree-lines and a large water body immediately to the east of the site.

 

Potential bat roosts were not sought, assessed or subject to close inspection, but it was noted that several mature trees present to the boundary and internal hedge-lines had voids and niches that appear suitable roosting habitat. Further roosting opportunities will be present within mature trees and woodland adjoining the site to the south (Birch Brook Wood, LoWS Co.128) and to the east, as well as to housing, buildings and structures adjoining the North, East and West site boundaries.

(Bat Survey | Save The Middlewick Group 2020)

Badgers

Scientific name: Meles meles

The black-and-white striped badger is a well-known species in the UK. It is our largest land predator feeding on small mammals, birds’ eggs, worms, fruit and plants. Badgers live in large family groups in burrows under the ground called a ‘sett’. You know if a sett is lived in as it is usually neat and tidy with clean doorways marked with piles of used bedding (hay and leaves). There will also be a particularly smelly pit nearby that the badgers use as a toilet! They have strong front paws, which they use to dig for food. Cubs are born in January or February but spend the first few months underground only coming out in spring when it is a little warmer.

(European badger | Essex Wildlife Trust, 2021)

Red Foxes

Scientific name: Vulpes vulpes

The red fox, famed for their cunning and stealth, is our only wild member of the dog family. These orangey-red dogs with their bushy tails, are not fussy eaters and will happily munch on small mammals, birds, frogs, worms as well as berries and fruit, all found on the wick! 

(Red Fox | Essex Wildlife Trust, 2021)

Hedgehogs

Scientific name: Erinaceus europaeus

Round, brown and famously covered in spines, the hedgehog is the UK’s most familiar wild animal. They can be spotted in parks and garden where bushes provide the perfect daytime getaway! They love long grass full of insects to feast on once the sun has set. Hedgehogs hibernate over winter from around November to April, usually choosing to nest in piles of leaves or logs.

Hedgehogs eat all kinds of invertebrates, as well as amphibians, birds’ eggs and anything else they can catch; they particularly like big, crunchy beetles, earthworms and slugs, making them a gardener’s best friend. Hedgehogs hibernate over winter, from about November to April, in a nest of leaves or logs called a ‘hibernaculum’.
(European Hedgehogs | Essex Wildlife Trust, 2021)

Hazel Dormouse

Scientific name: Muscardinus avellanarius

The hazel dormouse (or just ‘dormouse’) is an agile climber and mainly nocturnal, so is rarely seen. It lives in deciduous woodland, hedgerows and dense scrub, and spends most of the spring and summer up in the branches, rarely coming down to the ground. It eats buds, hazelnuts, berries and insects. Hazel dormice build nests out of grasses, stripped honeysuckle bark and fresh hazel leaves, in which the female will give birth to up to seven young. They hibernate during the winter months, either on the ground (under logs, leaves, in grass tussocks and at the base of trees) or just beneath the ground where the temperature is more constant.(Hazel Dormouse | Essex Wildlife Trust, 2021)

Sticklebacks

Inspiring Insects

The Middlewick ranges is especially known for insects, with seven nationally threatened (Red Data Book) and eight Nationally Scarce species being recorded.

Hungry Caterpillars

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Buzzing Beetles

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Dancing Dragonflies

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Busy Bees

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Beautiful Butterflies

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Magnificent Moths

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Patience Young Grasshoppers

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Blooming Beauty

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Wild Flowers

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Common Meadow Grass

Stinging Nettle

Cow Parsley

Spear Thistle

Bullrush Grass

Bluebell

Snowdrop

Dandelion

Rose

Cornflower

Daisy

Daffodil

Clover

Gypsophila

Orchids

Blackberry

Doc Leaf

Fox Glove

Cowslip

Scabious

Broom

Hawthorn

Blackthorn

Ragwort

Mugwort

Hog Weed

Vetches

Yarrow

Bindweeds

Speedwells

Buttercups

Willow Herbs

Groundsells

Shepherds Purse

Sorrels

English Ivy

Hawkweed

Elder Flower

Butter And Eggs - Toadflax

Rosehip

Acid Grass

Hazelnut

Purple Winged Orchid

Common Mallow

English Walnut

Wild Raspberries

Horse Raddish

Yellow Toadflax

Spring Beauty

Spring Beauty

Black Knapweed

White Dead Nettle

Red Dead Nettle

Sallow

Common Centaury

Ladies Bed Straw

Heather

Goose Grass

Primrose

Plantains

Ox Tounge

Creeping Thistle

Sow Thistle

Poppy

Black Horehound

White Horehound

Green Alkanet

Honeysuckle

Sloes

Cuckoo-Pint

Timothy Grass

Oak

Cherry Chase

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Cherry Plum

An Apple A Day

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Crab Apples

Mushrooms

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Gorse Of Course

“When gorse is out of blossom,”
(Its prickles bare of gold)
“Then kissing’s out of fashion,”
Said country-folk of old.
Now Gorse is in its glory
In May when skies are blue,
But when its time is over,
Whatever shall we do?

O dreary would the world be,
With everyone grown cold—
Forlorn as prickly bushes
Without their fairy gold!
But this will never happen:
At every time of year
You’ll find one bit of blossom—
A kiss from someone dear!

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Habitats (Biotopes)

Middlewick consists of mainly Acidic Grassland, This type of habitat has been reduced, nationwide to about 25% of that we once had. It occurs on sand and ballast soils that are well-drained. The Alluvial Gravels in the area were laid down by unique recent geology when the river Thames flowed past Colchester and the estuary was at Clacton on Sea, also by torrents of meltwater from the last ice age Glacier the Southernmost point of which was at Tiptree in Essex.

Heathland. Small patches occur within the boundaries of Middlewick, due to the same alluvial gravels. This type of habitat is also in serious decline.

Deciduous Wet Woodland. Probably the same meltwater carved out the valley in which Birch Grove sits. The gravel in the fields either side drain into the valley and keep it constantly wet, countless years of fallen trees and leaves have decayed and contributed to a layer of rich soil on the floor. This woodland would not be developed but would be seriously affected by any development nearby.

Birch Brook

Birch Grove

Middlewick

Scrub Oak

Heathland

Stepping Stone Biotypes

A biotope (habitat) is a place where life exists, it can be as small as a window box or rotten log or can involve many hectares of land.

  The illustration Matt has provided demonstrates stepping stone biotopes, the text is in German but it is self explanatory, for examples he has used four species, the Hermit Beetle with a radius or range of only 400 metres, the Stag Beetle with a radius of 2 km and the Woodpecker with a radius of 50 km and the Lions Mane Mushroom which can spread spores over hundreds of kms.

  We can see at once from the illustration that the Hermit Beetle can never escape the biotope it is in if that biotope is cut off from the surrounding countryside. The Stag Beetle can escape provided that the next biotope is near enough. The Woodpecker with a 50 km radius is able to escape to another area. The Lions Mane Mushroom may have a large radius but would depend on wind direction and strength and has no control over its destination.

  If there are species on Middlewick with a radius similar to the Hermit Beetle they could cease to exist in the event of any development.

  This brings us to the importance of biotope networking, they need to be connected by hedges and swathes of untouched land between them, this way species with a small radius can work their way along such corridors to the next area where they can exist, albeit at 400 metres at a time. This is especially important for rare creatures such as Dormice as they will not cross open ground. It is with some sense of irony I say the M25 is an excellent example of networking corridors with wide untouched verges for miles connecting one biotope to the next.

Common vs Rare

Common or rare, all cut and dried as far as planners and developers are concerned, only protected or endangered species will be considered. Not as simple as that is it?

If we allow common species to decline what do the rare feed on? The answer is, of course, the rare, they still must eat so if a bird cannot feed on the caterpillars of the very common Meadow Brown Butterfly it has no choice but to put more strain on ever-dwindling species such as the White Letter Hairstreak Butterfly, eventually, these common birds will decline through food shortage then the Raptors, the Owls, Kestrels, in turn, will decline as a result of the lack of common prey species, if the Wood Mouse and Bank Voles become scarce then the very rare Dormice will come under fire and so it goes on. To go one step further common species that keep invasive plants in check would no longer do so with the result that these species would take over and choke out other vegetation, an example of this is the Cinnaber Moth which is in decline and Ragwort.

   The balance of nature is a very delicate thing and we mess with it at our peril. Live for the moment and let tomorrow take care of itself? Tomorrow could well take care of us, our children and grandchildren due to food shortage or even famine brought about by lack of pollinating insects.