History of Tiptree Heath

Tiptree Ridge was created during the Anglian glaciation 450,000 years ago, when the London Basin was formed. Closer to recent time, Tiptree Heath was first registered as common land in 1401. In the Middle Ages it was used for grazing stock and the vegetation was used for household purposes. It spread from Maldon to the outskirts of Colchester. During the 18th century bits were fenced off for farming and development.

Heath Fairs were held annually with pony races at the Maldon end and stalls across the road by the crossroads.

The land was bought by Alderman Mechi in 1841 as part of the farm estate which is now Wilkin's. He was a merchant farmer who experimented with cultural methods and succeeded on the rest of the estate, but the soil on the Heath was poor so the land stayed in its wild state.

In the early 1860s the farm was bought by the first Mr Wilkin, who also bought the title of Lord of the Manor of Tolleshunt D’Arcy and that title has been handed down through the generations. The farm is part of the internationally famous Tiptree Preserves business and the Heath is still owned by Peter Wilkin.

Digging for Victory
In World War II the whole heath apart from trees round the edge was dug up for the 'Dig for Victory' Campaign and, after being seeded with grass seed in 1955 and left, the heather returned to make good heathland.

Site of Special Scientific Interest
In 1971 the heath was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest by the Nature Conservancy Council (now called Natural England) and conservation work was started by volunteers (Fred Boot, Laurie Forsyth, Peter More) to preserve and improve the site which was in danger of becoming overgrown. Small groups of volunteers found it increasingly difficult to overcome the fast encroaching scrub.

By 2001 it was declared in unfavourable condition and an advisory group was set up to make plans to restore heathland.

The Friends of Tiptree Heath
In 2003, the Friends of Tiptree Heath group was set up as a voluntary group, becoming a Charity in 2006, to work with the day-to-day running of the restoration tasks. The Restoration Project was started in 2004, with funding for an officerto co-ordinate work needed and to encourage public interest and involvement. During this time, the Art Trail was created.

The Heath Fair was re-introduced as a Craft Fair and has continued every year since then.

A Farm Business Tenancy Agreement was signed in 2006 between the owner, Peter Wilkin with the Friends of Tiptree Heath and the Essex Wildlife Trust who by then were line managing the project. The site was entered into a 10-year Higher Level Stewardship Agreement which would provide funding towards the work needed. In 2017 a Countryside Stewardship Agreement was made to continue the funding scheme for a further 5 years.

Cattle were introduced in 2008 to graze scrub in two large fenced compartments but, since their time on the Heath each year was limited by the amount of grass growing, they were replaced by Exmoor ponies in 2011/12.

Ownership and Management

The Heath, although a registered common, is privately owned by Peter Wilkin who is also Lord of the Manor of Tolleshunt D'Arcy.

It is managed jointly by the Friends of Tiptree Heath and Essex Wildlife Trust and detailed organisation is carried out by a Community Warden.

Annual meetings are held of the Management Advisory Group, which comprises the Owner and representatives from Tiptree Parish Council, Colchester Borough Council, Essex Wildlife Trust, Natural England, BTCV, Colchester Natural History Society and the Friends of Tiptree Heath.

Conservation Management Methods

Since the early 1970s, conservation has been developed by volunteers with the support of local and national agencies.

Groups of local people using hand tools worked for many years cutting small trees and clearing scrub. These methods were gradually supported by petrol driven tools loaned by Essex Wildlife Trust until machines were provided by local authorities. Tractor/digger clearance was also carried out by Wilkin farmworkers.

The Restoration Project made use of a range of methods which emulated the work of the cottagers in the Middle Ages, in the following ways:

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