Basildon Natural History Society

Welcome to the Basildon Natural History Society website.  The Society was formed in 1968 by a small group of amateur naturalists who shared a common interest in natural history and wildlife conservation.

In the years that followed, the Society’s membership steadily grew and it was recognised by the authorities involved in the development of Basildon New Town as being an authoritative voice for wildlife conservation.

In 1975 Basildon Development Corporation allocated 43 acres of woodland and old plotland as a local nature reserve and Basildon Natural History Society was entrusted with its management; a responsibility that it proudly continues undertake.

The area around Basildon contains some of the most important wildlife sites in the county, including those with SSSI status such as Pitsea, Vange, Fobbing Marshes and the wildflower rich Hawksbury Bush and Martinhole Meadows, collectively known as Basildon Meadows.

Essex Wildlife Trust’s Langdon Nature Reserve and Thurrock Council’s Langdon Hills Country Park provide continuous stretches of woodland and meadows to explore and discover nationally scarce species such as the Grizzled Skipper butterfly.

The society holds regular and wide-ranging indoor and outdoor meetings where members can learn about nature, geology, land management and other subjects that help us to understand and appreciate the natural world around us.

Joining the society is an excellent way to start an interest in natural history and we welcome novices and experts of all ages.

We hope that you will take the opportunity to explore our website and find out more about our activities and the important wildlife conservation work that the society undertakes.

The main objectives of the Society are as follows:

  • To promote the study and recording of wildlife species in the Basildon area
  • To share its wildlife knowledge with individuals and organisations
  • To encourage members of the public to participate in activities that will increase their knowledge and understanding of wildlife and its conservation.
  • To give its members an opportunity to become involved in practical conservation projects, including habitat management and species recording
  • To keep members informed about wildlife and conservation news and issues by way of its quarterly publication “Bulletin”











Basildon Natural History Society Celebrates 50 Years
On Saturday 12 May 2018 members of Basildon Natural History Society and invited guests celebrated the society’s 50th Anniversary. 
The audience enjoyed a presentation by Dr Rodney Cole, the retiring Chair of BNHS, entitled 'Half a Century of Remarkable Achievement’. The presentation celebrated the fine achievements of the society over 50 years, not least the continuing management of Marks Hill Wood on behalf of Essex Wildlife Trust. Gordon Reid, the former long standing chair of the organisation, also contributed by explaining his part in the transfer of the Marks Hill Wood Nature Reserve and Willow Park from ownership by the Basildon Development Corporation, to Essex Wildlife Trust, enabling the land to be freely used by the people of Basildon. 
Dr Cole also highlighted the recording and monitoring of local wildlife as an important aspect of the society’s work, for example moth trapping meetings and butterfly counts provide valuable scientific data for county and national monitoring. The data has also been used to oppose development plans on sensitive sites. 
Professor Germain Greer, the guest speaker, gave an inspiring address entitled ‘Earthlings Unite! You have nothing to lose but your planet' about her own conservation projects both here in the UK and in Australia. Professor Greer added that everyone should get involved in an environmental project whether large or small and praised members of Basildon Natural History Society for working together voluntarily to preserve areas of the local landscape. 
There was also exhibition of photographs and paintings by members. The day culminated in a guided tour of the Marks Hill Wood Reserve to see the flora and fauna and appreciate the excellent work carried out by Basildon Natural History Society volunteer work parties.
Here are some photographs taken at the event: Courtesy of Miriam Heppell
 Gordon Reid, Professor Germain Greer and Dr Rodney Cole
Guests start to fill the hall whilst others admire the photographic display

Professor Greer addresses guests at the Green Centre Wat Tyler Country Park

 Guests gather in the car park before heading into Marks Hill Nature Reserve for the tour

Dr Rodney Cole tells the group about the history of the reserve and its geological features. In the background is one of the superb information boards installed as part of the Langdon Living Landscape Project.

Pecks Pond, one of the reserves many success stories.  The pond was created at the base of a spring line in the early 1980's and with careful managment it has continued to flourish . On the day of the tour the pond was covered in a magnificent carpet of water violets.




Leucistic Starling

Barry Crowley recently photographed this almost pure white starling in his garden. The term for this colour aberration in animals is 'leucism'; it is caused by the partial lack of pigmentation in feathers, skin,hair, scales and cuticle. Leucistic animals have normal coloured eyes unlike albino animals which completely lack pigmentation.





Save the Bees

I'm sure that we are all aware of the importance of bumble bees in the garden and the harsh reality that populations are in serious trouble and are dwindling.  Now is the time to do your bit to help turn the tide and help these wonderful creatures to rebuild their numbers by planting nectar and pollen rich plants in your garden.  Many garden plants look beautiful but are not necessarily good for pollinating insects, in particular double flowered species.  The Royal Horticultural Society have published a comprehensive list of plants that are known to be of great value to pollinating insects, you can download this list by clicking on the following link. So during these dark winter nights why not plan to increase your gardens wildlife value by selecting some of the species mentioned, your garden will be all the richer for the sight and sound of bumble bees busily buzzing from plant to plant throughout the year ahead.

Click here - List of Pollinator Rich Plants






Vixen feeding cubs in Langdon Hills

Barry Crowley sent this charming video of a vixen feeding cubs in Langdon Hills this summer, Barry believes that the six cubs may be from two litters, one of which may be from a sibling of the vixen shown on screen.  A truly amazing glimpse into the life of the red fox, one can only wonder how long it took Barry to find the location and wait for the right opportunity to film the sequence.

Click on the picture above to view the video




 A walk in Marks Hill in the snow - 10th December 2017

Toni Dawson has sent in some wonderful pictures taken in Marks Hill Wood Nature Reserve thiis morning. The woods always look beautiful whatever the time of year however a covering of pure white snow always adds a touch of magic to the scene.

Looking down Albemarle Crescent with the trees bedecked in snow.

Pecks Pond, nothing stiring here at the moment but under the surface many creatures are waiting for spring to arrive.


This lacewing is hoping that it won't be spotted by a blue tit.

One of the superb information boards installed by the Living Landscape project.


A perfect formed and fragile snowflake hangs below a twig, magical!



Butterfly Safari 8th July 2017

The large group that assembled at the One Tree Hill Country Park car park were rewarded with the perfect morning for a Butterfly Safari.  Amongst those who attended were members of Butterfly Conservation and Essex Field Club so plenty of expertise to help us identify the butterflies seen during the walk. The event was led by Dr Rodney Cole, a local naturalist with specialist knowledge of butterflies and a lifelong interest and love of the Langdon Hills area.

The walk began with a gentle meander through the south facing meadows with their spectacular views over the Thames Estuary, then into Northlands Wood which contains areas of ancient woodland, finally emerging on the west side of Northlands Wood and returning to the car park via the bridleway and meadow.

In total twenty-five species of butterfly were seen and identified, this included five species that are listed by Butterfly Conservation as being rare and localised. Four of these are woodland species: White Admiral, Silver-Washed Fritillary, Purple Hairstreak and White-Letter Hairstreak, the fifth being the Marbled White which was seen in good numbers in some of the meadows.

The full list as follows:

Small Skipper                                                                     Ringlet

Essex Skipper                                                                    Speckled Wood

Large Skipper                                                                     Comma

Holly Blue                                                                           Peacock

Purple Hairstreak                                                               White Admiral

Brown Argus                                                                      Meadow Brown

Common Blue                                                                   Red Admiral

Small Copper                                                                    Silver-Washed Fritillary

White-Letter Hairstreak                                                     Wall Brown

Gatekeeper                                                                       Large White

Marbled White                                                                  Clouded Yellow

Painted Lady                                                                    Green-Veined White

                                                                                        Small white


In the following week one of the group Stephen Drake returned to One Tree Hill Country Park to take more photographs of some of the species seen during the walk on the 8thJuly. In addition to those species he manged to take a superb photograph of a Brimstone, a stunning butterfly that evaded us on Saturday’s walk.

BNHS are grateful to Steve for providing the photographs displayed below.

More of Stephen's superb wildlife photographs can be found on the Dagenham Chase website by clicking on this link.


 Common blue butterflies mating                                            Common blue


 Purple Hairstreak                                                                   Clouded Yellow butterflies mating

Brimstone                                                                                Silver-Washed Fritllary








Moth recording update.

In October 2016 two new species were added to the impressive list for Marks Hill.  The first of these was attracted to a light trap operated by Andrew Reybould; the Merveille du Jour is an incredibly beautiful moth that gains protection from its lichen coloured markings.

The second new moth was the Black rustic, not as colourful as the previous species but equally welcomed by those assembled around the table. This specimen was discovered under one of the egg boxes when the light trap was being emptied before packing up.



Mervielle du Jour, Black rustic and Satellite on sessile oak

A close up view of the magnificent Merveille du Jour



Marks Hill Nature Reserve

Subject to weather conditions, evening recording meetings will continue to take place on Tuesdays, on:  13th June - 11th July - 8th August - 5th September.   Meet at dusk by the green gate and seat in Staneway.  Bring a torch.  Parking is not allowed on the verge. Please note that meetings start just before dusk.

These meetings are very weather dependent - if unsure ring Brian on 01268 491540/07752 879252

Why not come along and try one of our monthly moth recording sessions in Marks Hill Nature Reserve.  The group meets shortly before dusk so it’s worth checking the sunset time for each particular day.   If you feel able to, you can give a hand with setting up the equipment, but you will be as equally welcome arriving anytime during the evening’s activities.

As well as keeping an eye on the light traps we often have the opportunity to experience close encounters up with other ‘wee tim’rous beasties’ that inhabit the woods and meadows when darkness descends upon the reserve.  In peak summer months, glow-worms can be seen along the footpaths, glowing as bright as green LED’s and if you shine a torch into the pitch black of the wood you may pick out the bright reflection from the eyes of a fox or even one of the muntjac deer that inhabit the reserve.  On one particular evening the group sat around the table and watched a family of tawny owls silently flying from tree to tree, their ghostly shapes silhouetted against the moonlit clouds.

Well, we hope that may have whetted your appetite but if you need further tempting, then we offer wonderful free refreshments in the form of tea, coffee and biscuits, all served in the company of a fine bunch of experienced ‘moth enthusiast’ who will be happy to share their knowledge and experience with you.

So make note of the last dates for the remaining meetings for this year, dig out your warm wooly jumpers and socks (just in case) and check the batteries in your torch, we look forward to seeing you there.

Rod, Peter and Fred gather around one of the special moth lamps as these elusive nocturnal creatures are lured into the bright light.

Whilst Rod identifies and records the species that have been brought back to the 'office' (table), the moth gatherers have a well earned cup of tea or coffe and a chocolate biscuit.




Woodland management success story

When Basildon Natural History Society took on the management of Marks Hill Nature Reserve in 1976 it set out to return the long neglected woodland to a state where some of the species once associated with this habitat would return and flourish.  One target species was the white admiral butterfly, it was known that there were records of this species from the past but the nearest breeding colonies at that time were on the other side of the Thames in Kent.  The food plant of the white admiral butterfly larvae is honeysuckle and back in 1976 this was present in the reserve but was being crowded out by overgrown woodland. In the winter of 1976 the Society began the process of coppicing the woodland in stages, this took place on an annual basis and involved felling ash, hornbeam, field maple and other hardwood species, the trees stumps were left to regenerate into coppice stools which themselves would need to be cut back again in 20 to 30 years’ time.   Some large trees such as oak were left to grow as standards thus forming areas of woodland that let in light but also had graduated stages of growth.  This form of management has continued in the reserve for the past forty years and it has resulted in a magnificent mosaic of woodland with beautiful sunny glades that are rich in wildlife.  Now the honeysuckle is really flourishing, it forms curtains of sweet scented flowers along all of the pathways around the reserve and has attracted the attention of white admiral butterflies.  This summer reports have been coming from many of the visitors to the reserve who have seen and indeed have photographed this beautiful insect, the photograph below was kindly provided by Reg Mellis and was taken in Marks Hill on the 5th of July 2016.

 Photograph by Reg Mellis



Sparrowhawks filmed in Marks Hill

This superb footage of two sparrowhawks was taken by Karl Price in Marks Hill Nature Reserve on 30th May 2016.



Marks Hill Nature Reserve booklet now available

Written by Dr R.L.Cole and published by Basildon Natural History Society, this seventeen page guide to Marks Hill Nature Reserve contains a wealth of information on the social history, geology and wildlife of this unique area of Langdon Hills. It is illustrated throughout with colour photographs of habitats and some of the very special plants and insects that can be found there. Dr Cole explains how each distinct habitat is being managed to enhance and protect its wildlife value. The booklet also includes a tour guide and map that will enable visitors to find their way around the reserve whilst learning a great deal about the things that they can see now and some of the things they would have seen in times gone by.

Copies of the booklet can be obtained for £2.00 inlcuding P&P by clicking on this link to the 'Contact Us' page.   Purchase booklet  You  can also purchase a copy at any of the BNHS indoor meetings.




Can you help?

Song birds Disappearing from our Midst

It wasn't that long ago since the countryside around us was enriched by the song and calls of many more species bird than we can expect to hear now. Summer visitors such as the cuckoo, turtle dove and willow warbler were frequently heard around the country lanes and woodland of Langdon Hills. The exquisite song of a nightingale could often be heard in some of the dense areas of managed woodland whilst the churring mechanical song of a grasshopper warbler would rise up from a thicket at the edge of a meadow. Corn buntings, once a common all year resident could be seen perched on a convenient post or cable at the edge of arable fields, with great gusto this little bird would fill the air with its key rattling call.  Sadly these once common sounds are becoming increasingly rare, so much so that we need your help in building a more accurate picture of their status on the Langdon Ridge.  By following this link you can assist us by sending a brief report on your encounter during spring and summer 2016. (Please click here)

For more information including sample calls and songs of these species please go to our Langdon Living Landscape page. (Please click here)





Rare orchid discovered after a 150 year

absence on the Langdon Ridge

Greater Butterfly Orchid photographed in a Langdon Hills meadow in June 2015.  This was the first record of this species on Langdon Hills since its mention in Gibson’s Flora of Essex published in 1862.

It brings to eleven the number of orchid species recorded on the ridge within living memory, testifying to its remarkable richness.


Photograph - Barry Crowley







Rare fly discovered in Marks Hill

A strange looking insect was attracted to a moth trap during a BNHS recording meeting in late April.  Realising that this was something very unusual BNHS Conservation Officer Peter Furze sent photographs to experts in the Essex Field Club for identification. Within a short time answers came back and the creature in question was identified as a female specimen of the 'dance fly' Rhamphomyia marginata.  This discovery has raised much excitement because this fly had previously only been recorded from a handful of sites in Kent

For a more detailed account of this discovery please follow this link the BNHS recording page.



Langdon Living Landscape fold-out map now available

Copies of this A2 guide to the publically accessible areas of wildlife rich countryside along the Langdon ridge are available from the Essex Wildlife Trust Visitors Centre in Dunton, One Tree Hill Information Centre and at BNHS indoor meetings. It can also be obtained as a PDF document by clicking on the following links:

    Fold-out map page 1

    Fold-out map page 2

This publication is supported by the generosity of the Veolia North Thames Trust.

For more information Langdon Living Landscape pleasr click here









Langdon Living Landscape Hedge Project nears completion

In November 2013 a small group of volunteers started to work on laying a hedge along a bridleway in the Lee Chapel area of the EWT Langdon Nature Reserve.  The bridleway was created by Basildon Development Corporation when it had responsibility for managing the area in the late 1970’s and early 1980's and runs between the east end of Lee Chapel lane and Staneway.  A selection of native trees were planted along a 200 yard section of the bridleway, these were intended to replace the hedgerow that originally bordered the east boundary of Home Field.  However they had never been managed and had grown into an avenue of tall trees that were fiercely competing for light and nutrients.  The most dominant species being hawthorn and oak with some ash and field maple, all of which are suitable species to lay by the traditional method of partly cutting through the trunk whilst leaving a section of bark intact to keep the trunk alive.

The first work party was held on Saturday 2nd November 2013 and took the form of a training day led by a professional hedge layer called Jim Wallden.  The trainees were given instruction on laying  pleachers (part cut tree trunks), staking and binding the hedge with hazel whips known as ‘featherings’ or ‘heatherings’.  Subsequently since the training day a number of volunteers from that group have continued to lay the hedge and have worked tirelessly through rain, sleet and gale-force winds but happily there have been many days when they have enjoyed glorious sunshine.  The first half of the hedge was completed in early 2014 and the second half was completed on 1st March this year (2015).

This particular bridleway is very popular with ramblers, dog walkers, runners, joggers, horse riders and cyclists and it has been very heartening to receive so many positive comments from them on the way that the work has been progressing.

During the summer we will be monitoring the regeneration of the hedge and recording the wildlife it attracts.  On Saturday 12th September 10.00am we will be holding an outdoor meeting to look at the plants and invertebrates that inhabit the length of the hedge.  In addition to this we will be arranging some ‘mothing’ sessions at the site; details will be released via this website.


The bridleway hedge - looking north-west across Home Field with Marks Hill in the distance




Willow Emerald damselfly in the Basildon area
Hitherto known in England only as a rare vagrant, in recent years the Willow Emerald damselfly (Lestes viridis) has colonised some south-eastern parts of the country.  It was discovered in Suffolk, Norfolk and north Essex in 2009, and in south Essex and north Kent in 2010.

When he came to Dry Street to conduct a one-day training course on bumblebees and dragonflies on 2nd August 2014, Professor Ted Benton suggested that this species might well be present in the area.

On that occasion the Willow Emerald was not discovered – although some other scarce and recent immigrant species were encountered.  However, remembering Ted’s suggestion, Colin Humphrey kept a look-out for it, and on 9th August took this photograph at the Lee Chapel Lane fishing lake, confirming the insect’s presence in our area.  The identification was confirmed by Ted.

Among the species encountered on 2nd August were Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) and the Small Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma viridulum).  The latter is another very recent colonist in England, spreading rapidly since the first specimens were discovered in 1999.

Willow Emerald Damselfly, Willow Park Langdon Hills 9th August 2014. Photo: Colin Humphrey.
For more information on the distribution of Damselflies and Dragonflies in the UK visit the British Dragonfly Society website by clicking here.
Unusual encounters with Clouded Yellow butterflies this year


Clouded Yellows migrate into Britain in varying numbers each year.  On the whole, these butterflies have difficulty surviving our winters, although in some sheltered spots on the south coast it is clear that established colonies can keep going from year to year.
It was a surprise, nevertheless, for Peter Furze when he encountered an apparently freshly-emerged female on the One Tree Hill Country Park on 30th April this year.  To have such a butterfly in the same photo as a Green-veined Orchid is an unusual association.  There had been Clouded Yellows in the meadows concerned in summer 2013, and the guess was that this insect had survived the mild winter as a chrysalis.
As the summer has worn on, several Clouded Yellows have been spotted around south Essex, including on the Willow Park section of the Langdon Nature Reserve.  However, Karl Price managed to photograph the somewhat rarer helice pale colour form of a female at Willow Park on 5th August.  This is the first time that this unusual form of the butterfly has been encountered hereabouts.


Clouded Yellow near One Tree Hill, with a Green-veined orchid, 30th April 2014.
 Photo: Rod Cole.

Helice form of Clouded Yellow, Willow Park 5th August 2014. Photo: Karl Price.

For more information on British butterflies visit the Butterfly Conservation website by clicking here.




LIving Landscape Awards


Dr Rodney Cole receives an award on behalf of the Langdon Living Landscape from the wildlife television presenter and cameraman Simon King at the Essex Wildlife Trust AGM in June.

 For more information on Langdon Living Landscape click here.



Those Gothic-looking trees on Mandeville Way

By Dr. Rod Cole

The labyrinth of silk spun by the caterpillars completely covers the base of the tree

There was quite a bit of fuss this spring, when four of the trees on the verge of Mandeville Way, Langdon Hills, became festooned in silk but otherwise remained starkly winter-like, devoid of the foliage which should by mid-May have been luxuriant.  The contrast with neighbouring trees, significantly of a different species, was unmissable.
The phones rang, and the emails started pinging, and then the local press got involved, as curiosity got the better of passers-by. Digital photos were taken and exchanged, and it was not long before jamjars containing samples of the culprits started to turn up.

Some of the caterpillars formed dense clusters whilst others wandered along the trunk and branches of the tree.

There was certainly no shortage of these culprits – there must have been thousands of them.  They proved to be caterpillars, hungrily seeking out further foliage.  The few which were delivered to my door were grateful for the cherry leaves which were put their way, confirming the suspicion that was already forming.

They proved to be the caterpillars of the Bird-cherry Ermine moth (Yponomeuta evonymella) – an apt name, given that the caterpillars devour the leaves of bird-cherry (a commonly-planted suburban tree, preferred because it does not grow too big).  The ermine reference is similarly appropriate, in that the adult moth is white with a few black dots, in the manner of the expensive stuff which adorns the robes of their lordships in high places (and that ermine came traditionally from the winter coats of stoats from cold places).

For some reason, there are years when the caterpillars of these small moths appear in plague numbers, affecting favoured trees to the degree that the entire crop of leaves is consumed, as on this occasion.  The result is quite dramatic, but transitory.  The caterpillars – if they do not starve – pupate and produce moths a bit later in the year, while the trees generate a second crop of leaves and resume their normal business.  It would follow that the moths – and possibly the caterpillars – provide a rich source of food for birds, although the silken web is no doubt a protective measure for those caterpillars.  Indeed, when I visited the trees it started to rain, and the sheltering effect of the silk was demonstrable.

The inevitable question arose, not least from the press:  were these grubs dangerous?  Doubtless the reputation of web-dwelling caterpillars had gone on before these particular creatures, and I sensed a readiness to cry panic, demanding the prompt application of clouds of poison spray, so it was necessary to stress that these wee beasties are quite harmless.  Indeed, the trees looked quite dramatic – ghostly Gothic in the evening light.  If the trees can stand the affliction, maybe of successive attacks, then there would appear to be no particular cause to intervene.



Green hairsteak butterflies on the wing in One Tree Hill Country Park

Last year (2013) was an exceptional year for butterflies in this beautiful part of the Langdon Ridge, white admirals, and silver-washed fritillaries could be seen in the coppiced area of  Northlands Wood, whilst huge numbers of marbled whites graced the wild-flower meadows between the car-parks.  This year has got off to a good start, the relatively mild spring seems to have favoured these beautiful and delicate insects, already brimstone, orange-tips, comma, peacock, small tortoiseshell and speckled woods have all been recorded on the wing. 

One speciality of the south-facing wild-flower meadows on the east site of the country park is the green hairstreak, this delicate little butterfly can easily be overlooked when on the wing because its upper wings are a rather drab brown, however when the butterfly lands and closes its wings it suddenly transforms into an amazing jewel, the surface of its iridescent underwings are incredibly beautiful shade of pale emerald.

The photograph below was taken on 24th April in one of the meadows to the east of  Martinhole Wood and it clearly shows that the butterfly probably had a close encounter with a hungry bird.

Photograph: Colin Humphrey



 Surprise rarity discovered in Marks Hill Wood

  Drepanepteryx phalaenoides

For several years the BNHS has operated a regular moth-trapping survey in Marks Hill Wood, and various rarities have been encountered.  However, the discovery of a large, leaf-like creature, more akin to what one would expect in a tropical forest, came as quite as surprise on 25th April this year (2013).

 None of the eight participants involved in the exercise that evening had previously encountered such a creature.  Subsequent investigation has established that this was a so-called brown lacewing, Drepanepteryx phalaenoides. 

 This species is associated with areas of old woodland, of the kind which exists at Marks Hill.  It has an affinity with accumulations of dead leaves, as one might expect.  Remarkably, it has never been recorded in Essex before, and indeed is rarely encountered, despite its quite substantial size.  There are records for some southern counties and, counter-intuitively, some northern ones, dating back over many years: it does not appear to be a recent immigrant species. 

Click here to view a short video of Drepanepteryx phalaenoides on Youtube


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