Picture by Brian SinclairWIVENHOE WOOD 

– Part of the Colne Local Nature Reserve

Colchester Borough Council (CBC) owns most of Wivenhoe Wood with the balance owned by Wivenhoe Town Council.  The wood is part of the Colne Local Nature Reserve and as such its long term future is safeguarded and its wildlife value increased with opportunities for people to enjoy and learn about nature. 

In 1999, plans were agreed by CBC to create the Colne Local Nature Reserve to include Wivenhoe Wood, Lower Lodge Farm open space and Wivenhoe Ferry Marsh. This initiative is part of a strategic approach to developing and managing of an extensive network of Local Nature Reserves in Colchester.

The wood covers an area of approximately 16.5 ha (40.7 acres). It lies on the northern side of the River Colne on rising ground between Essex University and Wivenhoe, Colchester, and adjoins other Borough Council-owned open spaces and lies close to the Upper Colne Marshes Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Wivenhoe Wood is designated a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation in the Council’s Deposit Draft Local Plan (2001). It lies within the Salary Brook and Lower Colne Valley Countryside Conservation Area due to its high landscape value. An area of salt marsh located to the north west is part of the aforementioned SSSI.

Whilst no public rights of way exist in the wood itself there are many well established paths running through the site. A right of way does run along the flood defense wall but is not used. The Wivenhoe Trail (a cycle route established by the Borough Council during the early 1990s) runs through the north western corner and is used in lieu of the right of way.

Most of the site lies on fluvial sand and gravels interleaved with clays. To the south end, several streams rise from springs and discharge into Wivenhoe Ferry Marsh to the west. At the north end a surface water drain discharges into a deep gulley through woodland and into the river through salt marsh. 

The central section of woodland is �ancient� and therefore an Essex and Colchester BAP priority habitat. It has probably been managed for its timber and wood for hundreds of years � possibly providing material for the local boat building industry. Other parts of the wood were, until relatively recently, open land used as grazing pasture.

Wivenhoe Wood and adjoining land comprise the largest accessible natural open space in the locality and the most important informal recreation area in Wivenhoe. Dog walking, jogging and play by children are the main uses. No formal visitor surveys have been carried out but it is known that approximately a hundred local people from a wide age range and socio-economic backgrounds visit and enjoy the site each day during the summer.  In addition, the Wivenhoe Trail is well used for recreational cycling and �commuting�. 


Many paths criss-cross the woodland. One runs from the bottom of Elm Grove into the main coppice area. In addition, there is access to the site for visitors from King George V Playing Field, Rosabelle Avenue, Spring Lane and the Wivenhoe Trail. For management purposes the main access is from a public car park at the end of Rosabelle Avenue that leads to a surfaced vehicular track and a woodland glade. 

The car park, which has a 2.25m height barrier at its entrance, was originally designed to accommodate ten cars but in recent years the car park’s shingle surface has become overgrown especially at the edges and it might not be possible to now accommodate 10 cars . 

A hard surfaced pedestrian path runs from the same car park through a kissing gate with a chicane to the glade. It was installed to give access to visitors with disabilities but tends to become overgrown in the summer. In addition, the loose car park surface is not ideal for anyone trying to reach the path with a wheelchair or pushchair.

In 2000 the Maurice Britton trail was established through the wood and is waymarked by simple arrowed posts set at intervals along the route. The Wivenhoe Trail lies west of the railway line and is outside of the site except for a short section to the north west.

Recent Management

A great deal of positive habitat and estate management has been done by the Borough Council over many years. Coppicing in the main area, re-introduced in 1970s, has continued though not according to a strict rotation. A local tree and forestry contractor has done most of the woodland management work. Various paths have been surfaced and improved; culvert bridges, information panels, bins, seats and picnic benches installed; the visitor car park constructed and regular maintenance of some of the unsurfaced paths. Most of the original work and on-going maintenance has been carried out by contractors. The Council�s Highways and Engineering Services maintain the Wivenhoe Trail and the clear overhanging vegetation and shrubs.

The introduction of rangering to the Borough Council�s woodland and adjoining land in 1999 has proved a positive step. It has resulted in a programme of guided events, prompt resolution of some problems and misuse, and support for local people. At present the uniformed ranger patrols the site once per fortnight plus another 2 days per month spent on work associated with the wood and its visitors. Volunteer rangers supplement this input with patrols and practical tasks each month. There are approximately ten ranger-organised �educational� events each year for local children, families and groups. 


Wivenhoe Wood was surveyed over a year � April 2000 to July 2001 – with additional information being gained from records provided by the Colchester Natural History Society and Museums Resources Centre (Natural History).

Trees and Shrubs

The past management of the wood has given it an distinct character, with a large diversity of tree and shrub species and groupings. Much of it was originally managed as a coppice and, after a period of management neglect, rotational coppicing was re-introduced by the Council in 1977.

The tree and shrub species present include sweet chestnut, pedunculate oak, ash, sycamore, birch, hawthorn and hazel which are dominant in certain parts of the wood, with alder, elder, crack willow, cherry, holm oak, holly, larch and scots pine also present.

Whilst there are few well defined compartments within the older woodland it is possible to distinguish some zonation by species dominance. The main area of sweet chestnut coppice is in a 5 hectare block between the railway line to the west and housing to the east. The steep slope immediately above the railway line is a relatively pure stand but further east other species, predominantly sycamore with some oak and birch, are now widespread. Most of the smaller coppice stools above the railway line require some management as they are in a poor condition. Elsewhere the coppice is in reasonable condition due to recent management but it requires further management. In some areas there are not enough stools to give good coverage of regrowth. There is also a lack of old standard trees.

The eastern corner of the wood (at the back of Woodland Way) contains a 1 ha area of old sweet chestnut coppice mixed with sycamore, ash, willow and hazel. Some of the trees have died or been blown over making access within the area difficult.

Immediately to the north and south of the main coppice are areas of secondary woodland. Ash, oak, sweet chestnut, sycamore and occasional birch and cherry are present in both. The southern area owned by the Borough Council (3 ha) contains many tall ash and oaks over a hawthorn, holly and elder shrub layer. To the north the woodland lies in a shallow valley dominated by oak which grades into a more open area of dense and scattered scrub that hides the old hedge boundaries of former pastures. It supports elm, thorn, blackthorn, broom, banks of bramble and dog rose, and extends beyond the railway line to provide a transition with the high salt marsh. This is one of the very few sites in Essex where such a natural transition can be observed. The whole area is approximately 5ha.

The most southerly end of the wood (Town Council land) supports oak and ash with an understorey of even-aged hawthorn and elder. The hawthorn is spindly and has lost much of its former wildlife value. Several of the larger oaks predate the rest of this area and were presumably part of the former landscaped estate. Elm is abundant. Other occasional trees include sycamore, holly, horse chestnut, and goat and crack willow which grow in a relatively undisturbed wet area. A BMX track has been constructed from earth and building waste near to north-east edge. This area is approximately 2 ha in extent.

There is a great deal of wind-blown timber throughout the wood but much of it is �hung up� above the woodland floor. However, there are very few standing dead trees. The most serious problem in the wood, as a whole, is the large scale invasion of sycamore which appears to have spread from the coppice blocks. In certain areas sycamore is now dominant, suppressing the ground flora and regeneration of other species. This results in it forming pure stands in some parts. Some of the trees are quite mature but there are an enormous number of young trees growing very densely. The sycamore problem is one of the most important aspects of Wivenhoe Wood�s management.

Ground flora

The quality and quantity of ground flora in Wivenhoe Wood is extremely variable, with some large areas containing little or no cover whilst others are botanically interesting. The main reasons for poor ground cover and diversity are: dense tree canopies, associated with sycamore and hawthorn; dense leaf litter such as produced by sweet chestnut and sycamore; the young age of much of the woodland, and; at a more localised level, trampling.

The richest flora, not surprisingly, is found in the oldest woodland and associated with the streams and seepage lines elsewhere. Species such as bluebell, wood anemone, yellow archangel and wood speedwell are abundant on the higher western side of the coppice area. In the same area bracken and bramble are widespread, and yellow pimpernel, hairy woodrush and lesser spearwort, all scarce species in north east Essex, occasional.

Associated with the secondary woodland areas are common herbs and grasses. Ivy, ferns and garden escapes grow in the southern area. Large parts of the Town Council woodland are on heavily shaded bare ground. Species such as dogs mercury, enchanters nightshade and common twayblade are present elsewhere, the latter near to the railway line. The secondary woodland and scrub to the north supports fine and coarse grasses, ruderal species and nectar-rich herbs such as sheeps sorrel, wood sage, fox glove, knapweed and cat�s-ear. Localised patches of exposed sand and gravel support a heath flora that is gradually being lost to scrub. Dittander grows in abundance alongside the Wivenhoe Trail. The marshland below the trail is dominated by common saltmarsh-grass, sea couch and sea aster.

There is a species list of plants in Appendix 1 below.


The varied habitats and its relatively large size makes Wivenhoe Wood a locally important bird site. Breeding species include typical woodland birds such as great spotted woodpecker, black bird, mistle thrush, dunnock, wren, great tit and robin. The site is particularly rich in birdlife during the spring when migrant warblers visit. Willow warbler, chiffchaff, garden warbler, whitethroat, blackcap and nightingale are regularly seen in the dense scrubby or coppiced areas. Most are probably breeding species. 

Seven singing male nightingales were recorded around the scrubby valley and railway line during spring 2000. This makes the site of Borough-wide importance for this declining species. Song thrush, a County and Borough BAP priority bird species was recorded though there was no evidence of breeding. 

There is a complete list of birds from the site�s Common Bird Census (2000) in Appendix 2 below.

Other fauna

Grey squirrels are common throughout the older woodland. Rabbits were sighted in the heathy grassland. Common lizards have been recorded basking on fallen timber in sunlit openings. Casual records indicate that the heathy grassland and scrub support good populations of grasshoppers, common butterflies and bees. The 1996 Colchester stag beetle survey indicates that the species is abundant near to wood. Stag beetle is a County and Borough BAP priority invertebrate species. Other invertebrates are under-recorded.

No specific surveys have been carried out for mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

For more information about Wivenhoe Wood contact:   Paul Vickers CBC, PO Box 331, Town Hall, Colchester, CO1 1GL. Tel. (01206) 282963    E-mail – paul.vickers@colchester.gov.uk


Flowering Plants

Acer pseudoplatanus


Achillea millefolium


Adoxa moschatellina


Aesculus hippocastanum

horse chestnut

Ajuga reptans


Alliaria petiolata

garlic mustard

Alnus glutinosa


Anemone nemorosa

wood anemone

Anthriscus sylvestris

cow parsley

Apium nodiflorum

fool�s watercress

Artemisia vulgaris


Artemisia maritima

sea wormwood

Arctium minus

lesser burdock

Arum maculatum

cuckoo pint

Aster tripolium

sea aster

Ballota nigra

black horehound

Bellis perennis


Betula pendula

silver birch

Betula pubescens

downy birch

Bryonia dioica

white bryony

Callitriche agg

water starwort

Capsella bursa-pastoris

shepherd�s purse

Cardamine flexuosa

wavy bittercress

Cardamine hirsuta

hairy bittercress

Carpinus betulus


Castanea sativa

sweet chestnut

Centaurea nigra


Cerastium fontanum

common mouse-ear

Cerastium glomeratum

sticky mouse-ear

Chamerion angustifolium

rosebay willowherb

Circaea lutetiana

enchanter�s nightshade

Cirsium arvense

creeping thistle

Cirsium vulgare

spear thistle

Conopodium majus


Convolvulus arvensis

field bindweed

Conyza canadensis

canadian fleabane

Cornus sanguinea


Corylus avellana


Crataegue monogyna

common hawthorn

Crepsis vesicaria

beaked hawksbeard

Cytisus scoparius


Digitalis purpurea


Dryopteris dilatata

broad buckler fern

Dryopteris filix-mas

male fern

Duchesnea indica

yellow-flowered strawberry

Epilobium ciliatum

american willowherb

Epilobium hirsutum

great hairy willowherb

Epilobium montanum

broad-leaved willowherb

Equisetum arvense

field horsetail

Erodium cicutarium

common storksbill

Euonymus europaeus


Euphorbia amygdaloides

wood spurge

Fallopia convolvulus

black bindweed

Fragaria vesca

wild strawberry

Fraxinus excelsior


Fumaria capreolata

white ramping fumitory

Galeopsis tetrahit

common hemp nettle

Galium aparine


Geranium dissectum

cut-leaved cranesbill

Geranium robertianum

herb robert

Geranium molle

dovesfoot cranesbill

Geum urbanum

wood avens

Glechoma hederacea

ground ivy

Hedera helix


Heracleum sphondylium


Humulus lupulus


Hyacinthoides non-scripta


Hypericum androsaemum


Hypericum perforatum

common st john�s wort

Hypochaeris radicata


Ilex aquifolium


Lamiastrum galeobdolon

yellow archangel

Lamium album

white dead nettle

Lamium purpureum

red dead nettle

Lapsana communis


Larix decidua

european larch

Leontodon autumnalis

autumn hawkbit

Leycesteria formosa

himalayan honeysuckle

Linaria vulgaris

common toadflax

Listera ovata

common twayblade

Lonicera periclymenum


Lotus corniculatus

common birdsfoot trefoil

Lysimachia nemorum

yellow pimpernel

Malva sylvestris

common mallow

Matricaria discoidea

pineapple weed

Mercurialis perennis

dog�s mercury

Medicago arabica

spotted medick

Medicago lupulina

black medick

Moehringia trinervia

three-nerved sandwort

Ornithopus perpusillus


Oxalis acetosella

wood sorrel

Pastinaca sativa

wild parsnip

Pentaglottis sempervirens

green alkenet

Picris sylvestris

bristly ox-tongue

Pinus sylvestris

scots pine

Plantago lanceolata

ribwort plantain

Plantage major

greater plantain

Plantage maritima

sea plantain

Polygonum aviculare


Polystichum setiferum

soft shield fern

Populus tremula


Potentilla argentea

hoary cinquefoil

Potentilla reptans

creeping cinquefoil

Potentilla sterilis

barren strawberry

Prunus avium

wild cherry

Prunus spinosa


Pteridium aquilinum


Quercus cerris

turkey oak

Quercus ilex

holm oak

Quercus robur

pedunculate oak

Ranunculus bulbosus

bulbous buttercup

Ranunculus ficaria

lesser celandine

Ranunculus flammula

lesser spearwort

Ranunculus repens

creeping buttercup

Ribes rubrum

red currant

Rosa arvensis

field rose

Rosa canina

dog rose

Rosa rugosa

japanese rose

Rubus fruticosus


Rubus idaeus


Rumex acetosa

common sorrel

Rumex acetosella

sheep�s sorrel

Rumex crispus

curled dock

Rumex obtusifolius

broad-leaved dock

Salix caprea

goat willow

Salix cinerea

grey willow

Salix fragilis

crack willow

Salix purpurea

purple willow

Salix viminalis


Sambucus nigra


Scrophularia nodosa

common figwort

Scutellaria galericulata

common skullcap

Senecio jacobaea


Senecio sylvaticus

heath groundsel

Senecio vulgaris


Silene alba

white campion

Silene dioica

red campion

Sisymbrium officinale

hedge mustard

Solanum dulcamara

woody nightshade

Sonchus asper

prickly sow-thistle

Sonchus oleraceus

smooth sow-thistle

Sorbus aucuparia


Stachys sylvatica

hedge woundwort

Stellaria holostea

greater stitchwort

Stellaria media

common chickweed

Tamus communis

black bryony

Taraxacum agg


Taxus baccata


Teucrium scorodonia

wood sage

Tragopogon pratensis


Trifolium dubium

lesser yellow trefoil

Trifolium pratense

red clover

Trifolium repens

white clover

Tussilago farfara


Ulex europaeus


Ulmus agg


Ulmus glabra

wych elm

Urtica dioica

stinging nettle

Veronica arvensis

wall speedwell

Veronica chamaedrys

germander speedwell

Veronica hererifolia

ivy-leaved speedwell

Veronica montana

wood speedwell

Veronica serpyllifolia

thyme-leaved speedwell

Viburnum opulus

geulder rose

Vicia hirsuta

hairy tare

Vicia sativa

common vetch

Viola riviniana

common dog violet



Grasses, Rushes and Sedges

Agrostis capillaris

common bent

Agrostis stolonifera

creeping bent

Aira praecox

early hair-grass

Alopecurus pratensis

meadow foxtail

Anthoxanthum odoratum

sweet vernal grass

Arrhenatherum elatius

false oat-grass

Brachypodium sylvaticum

false brome

Bromus hordeaceus

soft brome

Bromus sterilis

barren brome

Carex divulsa

grey sedge

Carex remota

remote sedge

Carex sylvatica

wood sedge

Cynosurus cristatus

crested dogstail

Dactylis glomerata


Descampsia cespitosa

tufted hair-grass

Elymus pycnanthus

sea couch

Elytrigia repens

common couch

Holcus lanatus

yorkshire fog

Holcus mollis

creeping soft grass

Isolepis setacea

bristle clubrush

Juncus bufonius

toad rush

Juncus effusus

soft rush

Lolium perenne

perennial rye-grass

Luzula campestris

field woodrush

Luzula pilosa

hairy woodrush

Milium effusum

wood millet

Poa annua

annual meadow-grass

Poa nemoralis

wood meadow-grass

Poa pratensis

smooth meadow-grass

Poa trivialis

rough meadow-grass

Phragmites australis

common reed

Puccinellia maritima

common saltmarsh-grass

Scirpus maritimus

sea club-rush

Triglochin maritima

sea arrow-grass

Typha latifolia

greater bulrush

Vulpia bromoides

squirrel-tail fescue



Appendix 2  – WIVENHOE WOOD BIRD SPECIES LIST  (Species status � based on Common Bird Census 2000)


Song Thrush
Small numbers present throughout the year; singing males present in scrubby valley. No evidence of breeding.

Mistle Thrush

A breeding resident in the wood, 2-3 pairs.

Turtle Dove
A likely breeding resident in the scrubby valley; 3 singing males in April.