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Wildlife at Fordham Hall

The River Colne forms the boundary of Fordham Hall Estate for about 1.2 miles (2km) of its course. Two streams run through the property too, and there are also permanent and seasonal ponds.

Otters are resident on the Colne, which has moderately good fish populations. One stream is thought to be used by female otters, possibly to raise young away from the main water course.

Until recently, water voles were very rare, possibly extinct, as a result of predation by American mink, which have colonised the Colne Valley. In 2009 the Essex Wildlife Trust began a five-year project to remove mink and release hundreds of water voles along a stretch of river between Halstead and Fordham. Early indications are that a successful population of water voles has now been now established.

Deer are also frequent visitors to the river and surrounding floodplain and muntjac, roe and red deer have all been spotted. There are also large herds of fallow deer not too far away. Rabbits and brown hare are also present, while the floodplain grassland is grazed by Soay sheep sheep in the late summer. Grazing controls the vegetation and stimulates new growth.

Three bat species were recorded on the Fordham Hall Estate in 2009. Two – common pipistrelle and soprano pipistrelle – were confirmed, but the third was not. The unidentified species was of the genus Myotis, of which three species are known to occur in Essex: Daubenton’s bat, Natterer’s bat and Brandt’s bat. The three are virtually impossible to identify on the basis of sound recordings alone, so until there is a confirmed sighting, we can only speculate which species has made its home here.

A very large and active badgers sett is located on the very edge of the western boundary of the site and recent evidence show that it is now expanding onto the site and that badgers are frequent visitors throughout the woodland creation areas.

Birds at Fordham Hall

The most important habitats for birds on the estate are its hedgerows, cricket bat willow plantations and the riverside meadows and marsh. On a walk there’s a chance that you might see a water rail or a short-eared owl, while in spring you may hear the call of the cuckoo.

In all, 57 species have been recorded at Fordham, including reed bunting, kingfisher, cuckoo, tawny owl, jay, rook, swallow, and house martin. Recorded birds species include 10 that are on the red list, which features species of high conservation concern.

Greater spotted woodpecker
Greater spotted woodpecker (Photo: WTML/Pete Holmes)

Another 18 are on the amber list, which means that they are of medium-level conservation concern. A total of 42 species are thought to breed on the estate.

Red list species in the River Colne catchment include:
Turtle dove – a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species that continues to decline nationally
Skylark – a stable or possibly increasing population at Fordham is locally very significant
Spotted flycatcher – another UK BAP species that is continuing to decline.

Other key red list species that can be seen in the valley are song thrush, starling, house sparrow, linnet, bullfinch, reed bunting and yellowhammer.

Key amber listed species at Fordham are mute swan, kestrel, lapwing, stock dove, green woodpecker, kingfisher, cuckoo, swallow, house martin, dunnock, mistle thrush, willow warbler and goldcrest.

Look out too for sparrowhawk, little owl, great-spotted woodpecker, reed warbler, lesser whitethroat, whitethroat, wren and chaffinch. A female barn owl was recorded at Fordham in 2006 and a pair breed each year at nearby Wakes Colne.

Insects

The estate’s abundance of flowers is also a rich nectar source for many insects and other invertebrate species.

The riverbank is the perfect environment for dragonflies (Photo: WTML/David Whitaker)

Among them are butterflies – 21 species have been recorded across the estate. They are all species of the wider countryside, which occur on farmland, parkland and in the urban environment. Fordham’s butterflies include small skipper, Essex skipper, large skipper, brown argus, common blue, meadow brown, speckled wood, meadow brown and gatekeeper.

The estate has a colony of small heath, a species that has suffered a long-term population decline. It is now a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority, so the population at Fordham has special significance.

A survey in 2006 found 12 species of dragonfly and damselfly. Most were spotted along the River Colne.

The slow-flowing river with its lush riverside vegetation is an ideal habitat for banded demoiselle, a striking damselfly that has delicate, coloured wings. During the survey more than 2,000 were counted along just 1.2 miles (2km) of the river. Other riverside species include large red damselfly and the common damselflies.

Away from the river, southern hawker dragonflies can often be seen along hedgerows, where they hunt for smaller insects. They are often numerous in late August; possibly coming to Fordham in search of flying ants.

Another insect of note is the stag beetle, which is a national BAP priority species. It is found on the estate and habitat piles have been built next to hedges to provide more breeding sites.