Home   What's On   Article

Enjoy a nature walk and picnic at Aubrey Buxton Nature Reserve near Stansted in the school summer holidays





Nature Notes columnist Jono Forgham covers your fortnightly look at nature around Bishop’s Stortford

As we are now into the school holidays, I thought I would spend the next few articles reporting from specific sites that are worth visiting for a short nature wander with a picnic. These sites offer good views of many aspects of wildlife, the first being the splendid Aubrey Buxton Nature Reserve just north of Stansted.

The reserve can be accessed by driving through Stansted village on the Newport road and taking a right turn just after the new roundabout as you leave the village, just before Sworders auction house. This is Alsa Lane. Carry on up here for a few hundred yards until you arrive at a sharp left-hand bend with a sign saying Snakes Lane. In front of you is a tarmac lane. Take this for 200 yards and there is a small car park and the entrance gate to this Essex Wildlife Trust (EWT) reserve.

Mallow
Mallow

There are plenty of good paths to explore, three ponds and plenty of open areas showing a wide variety of wildflowers which, last Wednesday, held many butterflies and a few day-flying moth species.

I arrived in grey conditions at 8am, collected my optics and set off. Within minutes it was drizzling so no chance of seeing much. Both green and great spotted woodpeckers called from mature trees, but the flowering brambles were devoid of insects so I headed home, caught up with some moth records and returned in what looked like better conditions around 1pm.

I arrived in bright sunshine with sharp shadows and made my way to a wildflower meadow. Numerous butterflies were weaving their way over flowers such as wild basil, agrimony, greater knapweed, self heal, mallow and centaury. I set up my camera for some photos just as the clouds rolled in and it began drizzling again.

Male common blue
Male common blue

Having taken shelter under an expansive oak, the rain only lasted for a few minutes and I was back out, spotting huge numbers of red admirals, meadow browns and gatekeepers. In amongst these were several common blues (all male), a few commas, a solitary brimstone and a selection of white species.

I spent time trying for photos in light that was forever changing before I took a narrow path towards the first of the three ponds. Here, a female mallard kept a watchful eye upon her youngsters as they fed upon pondweed. Large beech, oak and conifer shaded the pond as I wandered around a shed and down to the second and third ponds. No sign of the resident grey wagtail, just another mallard and a couple of moorhens as a chiffchaff “zip zapped” above me.

A nuthatch burbled from afar as I came to another open space where Indian balsam was in flower. A useful nectar plant for insects, but hugely invasive and, I suspect, soon to be pulled up before it creates a monoculture for the whole area, shading out all the other lower-level plants.

The path winds its way along a secure boardwalk and out into another open area. A gentle north-facing slope here held much plant life and, consequently, many insects. A flowering bramble bush was being attended to by at least 20 red admirals whilst, in the grasses, the micro moth Chrysoteucha culmella flew with every footfall. A larger moth darted for cover, a silver Y.

The reserve's largest pond
The reserve's largest pond

Bombus lapidarius (red-tailed bumblebee) nectared upon knapweeds and field scabious, a single Episyrphus balteatus hoverfly (the marmalade fly) rested upon another knapweed flower head and many western honeybees (Apis mellifera) went about their business. I changed lenses several times in an attempt to capture these insects, but frequently the light was poor and the resulting shots were not too satisfactory.

Just around the corner were large stands of bamboo, I suspect dating back to the time when Aubrey and Mary Buxton had this land as their garden. They donated the land to be a reserve back in 1976 and EWT have maintained it ever since. Formerly it had been called Stansted Wildlife Park.

I headed back along the gentle slope and checked the open fields on the other side of a pinch point entrance. This leads to a footpath that takes the wanderer back to Stansted, near Silver Street, but my attention was still on the reserve so, having heard skylarks and yellowhammers, I continued along the path, passing an area of coppiced hazel, and arrived at the final open space in the centre of the reserve.

Chiffchaff
Chiffchaff

Blue tits, coal tits and great tits called and came to the forest floor to check the leaf litter for invertebrates. Another coal tit called from a large conifer. Wrens, robins and a male blackbird were also seen and heard as I checked through a good stand of rosebay willowherb, but no hoped-for elephant hawk-moth caterpillars. The willowherb is a larval foodplant of this species and the caterpillars can often be found at the base of the plant, only climbing up the stem to feed after dark.

Large white
Large white

A large white, impressive with its creamy yellow underwings, nectared upon a thistle, affording a photo opportunity. More red admirals and commas. So many of the former species, I suspect many being migratory specimens that have come over from the continent in the recent warm southerlies that we have been experiencing, picked up in the strong breezes.

Comma
Comma

Having checked this area I decided to return to my first port of call, the wildflower meadow near the entrance. Here I spent an hour just mooching around, seeing what was about and trying for some worthwhile butterfly shots. Another migratory insect caught my eye, a hummingbird hawk-moth. This amazing creature zipped rapidly from flowerhead to flowerhead, never stopping long enough for a photo but great to watch. My first of the year. This, too, will have come north from France or the Iberian peninsula.

Brimstone
Brimstone

I carried on around and encountered several six-spot burnet moths. These bright moths are a day-flying species and are often so engrossed in nectaring that they can be approached for a closer inspection. Again, my first of the year. So much going on here that I often found myself weaving a path wherever the insects attracted my attention. A male brimstone was a target for a photo but was very flighty, so I changed lenses to my large zoom. I could now fire off shots from a distance and managed a few for inclusion here.

Peacock
Peacock

A peacock butterfly got onto the day list. There must have been a recent emergence of these as I came across a fair few, all in the same area. A strikingly colourful butterfly showing two bright eye spots and jet black underwings.

I picked up a large feather just as the bird that had moulted it flew overhead. A common buzzard. I had heard it mewing earlier, but this was my first sighting of this now common bird of prey for the south-east.

Common buzzard flight feather
Common buzzard flight feather

Just as I thought I had found most of what was on show here, a darter species of dragonfly flew by. Either a common or ruddy darter and, upon closer examination, probably the latter due to the fact it had all-black legs. The common darter shows yellow stripes on the legs and these were not visible in the views I got. It posed, somewhat distantly, for a snap before heading off to roost in a nearby hazel tree. Upon checking this tree, I noticed how many hazelnuts were growing. It looks to be a good nut year, but when I return in early autumn to collect some of these I bet the grey squirrels will have beaten me to it!

Female mallard watches her brood feed
Female mallard watches her brood feed

A most enjoyable three hours or so in this self-contained reserve that boasts a wide selection of habitats for such a small area. Any month of the year is good for nature spotting here, but the butterflies in August and early September are always a highlight and there is always a chance of coming across a purple emperor which breed here. None were seen during my visit, but they are certainly present. Well worth a visit during the school holidays.

Episyrphus balteatus, a hoverfly on knapweed
Episyrphus balteatus, a hoverfly on knapweed
Darter dragonfly
Darter dragonfly

Got a story for the Stortford Indie? Email us at newsdesk@bishopsstortfordindependent.co.uk.



This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More