Whether it’s a visit to a farm park, zoo or nature reserve, Essex has a wealth of award-winning places to visit that fans of all creatures great and small will love.

Traditionally, when you think of a rich variety of habitats; sun-dappled ancient woodland, windswept salt marshes, idyllic meadows and bucolic rivers, Essex falls some way short of the top of most people’s lists. Yet this beautiful county richly rewards those who prefer to take a walk on the wild side.

1. Rainham Marshes, in the south of the county, has been nominated for the accolade of Britain’s Favourite Nature Reserve. The RSPB-run site is located amongst urban surroundings bordering Greater London. This ancient landscape is a haven for wading birds and was described by LandLove magazine as a ‘hidden gem’.

2. As you follow the Thames Estuary heading back out towards the open sea off Southend, there are burgeoning seal colonies just off the shore of historic Leigh.

3. Inland, near the heart of the county, you’ll find Marsh Farm. It promises acres of magical fun for all the family, with a wide variety of activities available every day.

From tractor rides to pony grooming, watching birds of prey demonstrations to having a pretend flutter on the goat racing, and of course, meeting all the amazing birds and animals themselves, this is a wonderful place to interact with nature. It is also the official home of much-loved TV and film star, Shaun the Sheep and Championsheeps Live.

4. A short drive away – and still in South Woodham Ferrers – is Tropical Wings.

Not only does this family-run zoo have one of the finest tropical houses in the UK, filled with butterflies, but it is also home to beautiful, exotic creatures such as Ring-tailed Lemurs, Porcupines, Capybaras and Parrots. Tropical Wings offers a number of encounters and experiences, including the chance to be a keeper for the day.

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5. For lovers of more traditional country pursuits, Hanningfield Reservoir is an ideal place to stretch your legs and go for a ramble with the dog, or forget your cares with a spot of fishing. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a complete beginner, the fishing lodge will welcome you and help you while away the hours on the banks or in boat enjoying some of the best trout fishing in England.

6. Take a ferry from the picturesque town of Burnham on Crouch – just fifteen minutes’ drive from South Woodham Ferrers – to the RSPB’s Wallasea Island reserve.

This landmark conservation project – the largest of its kind ever undertaken in Britain and Europe - has painstakingly returned farmland into a mosaic of mudflats and saltmarsh, unseen for hundreds of years. In turn, this has created a true haven for wildlife and keen birders alike. Star species include Spoonbills, Redshanks, Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits and increasingly large flocks of Brent geese.

7. Your little monkeys will go wild at the prospect of a trip to Colchester Zoo. 

Rated as one of the top 20 in the world, it is a sanctuary for a number of endangered and vulnerable species; including leopards, tigers and lions, bears, Komodo dragons, noble orangutans and stunningly cute Red Pandas. 


8. Travel to Billericay to enjoy Barleylands Farm. Free range family fun in the Farm Park with all weather activities; farmyard friends, soft play, outdoor adventures, tractor & trailer ride, miniature train and more. Plus 60+ Craft Village shops & studios to discover.

9. Danbury Common and Lingwood 

Danbury Common is made up of lots of different habitats - we call it a mosaic. Here you can see tall trees alongside lowland heath, with ponds and coppice woodland as well as acid grassland. It's this variety that makes Danbury really special, and it's the second largest heathland in Essex too. As a common, people would have had rights to collect wood and graze their animals. We don't graze here anymore so trees are trying to grow on the areas of heath - because of this we mow the common to keep the trees in check. Heathland is a very rare habitat in Essex; lots of creatures including birds, reptiles and insects rely on the plants that grow here.

10. Fingringhoe Wick is one of the finest nature reserves in Essex, with 125 acres of woodlands and lakes by the Colne estuary. Superb nature trails and eight hides. Many species of birds, insects and wild flowers flourish here. Regular special events. Conservation centre with displays, shop, observation tower and panoramic windows.