The Best Nature Reserves To Visit in Essex


Previously we have covered the best parks in Essex and the best walks in Essex, so now we’re covering the best nature reserves and places in the county that are helping our wildlife and other animals.

This list has something for all ages, with lots of fun places to explore with the kids or for the adults to do some bird watching at one of the reservoirs.

Many of these locations help to support the local environment and wellbeing of animals and wildlife, thus relying heavily on donations, entry fees, and volunteers to be able to do they work they do. We hope that in this list you will find some great places to visit and support.

Hatfield Forest Nature Reserve, Takeley

Image: Trip Advisor

Hatfield Forest is part of the national trust and provides lots of open space for the family to enjoy. It’s perfect for walking, cycling, and enjoying a picnic. Boats can also be hired on the lake. Kids will enjoy the opportunity to run around in the open fields and climb trees in the forest.

Dogs are also welcome, although there are some areas where they are not allowed for the sake of the wildlife. Make sure to keep dogs on their leads while around the cows and sheep that inhabit some of the fields.

There is a small cafe where you can purchase food and drink if you don’t bring your own. One Trip Advisor reviewer recommends the chips.

There is onsite parking which received mixed reviews at £8 flat rate cash only. Because of this it is advised to visit if you plan to spend at least half a day at the reserve. National Trust members, however, can go free.

Abberton Reservoir Visitor Centre, Colchester

Image: Trip Advisor

Abberton Reservoir is part of the Essex Wildlife Trust and offers a place to visit for bird-watchers and their families. The site is a massive 25 hectares and offers free onsite parking for the visitor centre, walking trails, bird watching hides, and a playground for kids.

Enjoy the Brambly Hedge Wooden Sculpture Trail with the family where your kids can test their map reading skills (available to buy from the visitor centre) and find all of the wooden sculptures of the Brambly Hedge characters.

The visitor centre also has a shop and a cafe where you can enjoy a selection of hot items, sandwiches, handmade cakes including gluten & dairy- free, cream teas and more. At certain times of the year you’ll want to pack bug spray due to the centre’s location by the reservoir.

The centre also keeps track of bird sightings made on their website.

Hopefield Animal Sanctuary, Brentwood

Image: Trip Advisor

Hopefield Animal Sanctuary in Brentwood is a great day out for animal lovers of all ages. You can meet lots of different types of animals - all rescued by the sanctuary - and help support the good work that is being done.

It receives an overall rating of 4.5 stars on Trip Advisor, with many reviewers commenting on how well the animals are cared for and how happy they look. You can even get closer to some of the animals by booking one of the sanctuary’s animal enrichment experiences, and also enjoy some food at their onsite cafe.

You can plan your visit to the sanctuary and view entry fees on their website. Funds raised help to support the sanctuary and their costly overheads.

Hanningfield Reservoir Visitor Centre, Billericay

Image: Trip Advisor

The Hanningfield Reservoir visitor centre has lots for the family to do. Parking and entry are free, and there is a shop to browse and cafe to grab a bite to eat.

The centre is set in a small wooded area that then looks out onto the reservoir, meaning you can easily watch birds and animals from the centre itself. You can also make your way through one of the many walks around the reservoir, or to one of the bird hides.

The centre has regular events for kids to learn about the reservoir and its inhabitants, do arts and crafts, follow trails, and get messy. Some of these events include learning about bats during a bat evening and pond dipping.

Dogs are not permitted on site, and it is suggested that they can be walked at the nearby Crowsheath Wood or Crowsheath Community Woodland.

Are there any nature reserves in Essex that we’ve missed off the list? Let us know in the comments below about where you enjoy visiting.

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