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Abberton Reservoir Visitor Centre

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Listed in Nature Reserves & Woods, Parks, Wildlife and Nature, Places to Go


A wetland site of international importance for wildfowl. The site offers excellent birdwatching opportunities and fabulous views over the 1200 acre reservoir. There are facilities for the disabled in the visitor centre and boardwalk access to 2 of the 5 hides.

The huge expanse of Essex & Suffolk Water’s Abberton Reservoir is one of Europe’s top wetland sites. It is of international importance as a safe haven for wild ducks, swans and other water birds, whether resident, passing through on migration or over-wintering. It lies close to east-coast migration routes and, with its surrounding envelope of pasture and tree plantations, is a welcome sight to tired birds.

Up to 40,000 ducks, swans and geese visit each year. The top seven species are Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Coot and Black-headed Gull and they cannot fail to impress. Added to this there can be hundreds of Shoveler, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Pintail and Great Crested Grebe. In the spring there is the unusual sight of Cormorants nesting in trees, one of the few places in Britain where they do this. They began in 1981 and have continued ever since.

Late summer brings the spectacle of large numbers of swans and ducks moulting – replacing their worn-out feathers – on the reservoir. Safety is vital while they do so because they replace all their flight feathers at once, which means that for a while they are unable to fly.

In dry winters water levels fall temporarily to expose large expanses of mud. This attracts large numbers of passage waders such as ruff and spotted redshank from the coast. The surrounding farmland, too, is of value to birds. In winter thousands of golden plover may be seen there, along with small numbers of migratory geese and swans. For the keen birdwatcher the reservoir boasts an impressive list of rarities visiting briefly in winter or passing through on migration.

Essex Wildlife Trust manages this nature reserve situated on a well-protected bay of the reservoir, created in 1975 with the advice of Sir Peter Scott. A wide range of native trees and shrubs were planted which have matured into fine specimen trees and valuable hedges and thickets. A wide range of small birds nest here, particularly warblers, nightingales and finches.

The pockets of grassland provide open, sunlit sites ideal for many insects, including butterflies. In spring and summer you are likely to see Small Copper and Green Hairstreak and others such as Common Blue, Gatekeeper and Small Skipper. Around the pond good numbers of dragonflies can be seen, including the Small Red-eyed Damselfly. With its central nesting island it attracts breeding Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Mallard and Moorhen in spring. Two bird hides within the reserve give views of two floating nesting rafts for Common Terns, and there are two further hides on the peninsular trail around the land next to the reserve.

The visitor centre was built with the support of Essex Suffolk Water and Colchester Council and sits right beside the reservoir. It is a birding centre par excellence, offering a variety of birds at different times of the year and the possibility of rarities, so interest is always high. The shop stocks one of the best ranges of wildlife books anywhere in Essex and a wide range of optics, so you can come to look at wildlife and get kitted out to improve your enjoyment at the same time.

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