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Canvey Wick - Britain's Rainforest...

... and Buglife's first Nature Reserve!

Days before slipping into his dancing shoes and sequined shirt, Steve Backshall did what he does best- spoke passionately about all things creepy and crawly, took children bug hunting in the dark and officially opened Canvey Wick- Britain’s first Bug Reserve, in Essex.

It's the only brownfield bug reserve in the UK.

 “Sites like Canvey Wick are where I started. They are great places to ignite passion for bugs” Steve Backshall, Buglife Vice President

Flowers and chimneys at Canvey © Claudia Watts

Flowers and chimneys at Canvey © Claudia Watts


What makes Canvey Wick so special for wildlife?

Described as "a brownfield rainforest" by Natural England officer Dr. Chris Gibson, survey results have shown Canvey Wick to support over 1,400 species of invertebrate.

"More biodiversity per square foot than many other site in the UK" Matt Shardlow, Buglife's CEO.

The East Thames corridor is particularly rich in invertebrate species and Canvey Wick is one of the most diverse and species-rich sites in that area, with nationally important groupings of invertebrates.

Brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis) © S. Falk

Brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis) © S. Falk

It also has the most important remaining population of the BAP Priority Species Shrill carder bee (Bombus sylvarum) in the Thames region and perhaps in all of the UK.

The loss of the site would have severely threatened the survival of this rare bumblebee.

So far 30 Red Data Book (RDB) species and 3 species previously thought to be extinct in Britain have been found at Canvey Wick. These treasures include:

  •  Brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis) BAP Priority.
  •  Five-banded weevil wasp (Cerceris quinquefasciata) BAP Priority.
    Scarce emerald (Lestes dryas) © Ian Ward

    Scarce emerald (Lestes dryas) © Ian Ward

  •  Hedychrum niemalei - a RDB 'kleptoparasite' that lays its eggs in the burrows of the 5-banded weevil wasp so that its larvae can steal the food that the wasp has provided for its own young.
  •  Morley weevil (Sitona cinerascens)
  •  Canvey Island ground beetle (Scybalicus oblongiusculus)
  •  Scarce emerald damselfly (Lestes dryas)
  •  Sciocoris cursitans, a nationally scarce shieldbug, and
  •  Gymnosoma nitens, the RDB fly that parasitises it.
    Canvey Wick Jetty © Roger Taylor

    Canvey Wick Jetty © Roger Taylor

It's not just invertebrates

In spring and summer, whole swathes of Canvey Wick burst into colour. Some of the most spectacular plants to be seen are the orchids. Four species flourish on the site:

  • Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera)
  • Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)
  • Common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)
  • Southern marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa).

On warm summer days, common lizards come out to bask in the sunshine and you may hear skylarks singing overhead.

Canvey Wick aerial © The Land Trust

Canvey Wick aerial © Land Trust

Water voles nest and feed along the ditch banks and in autumn and winter pretty stonechats gather to feed on the seeds of reedmace in the wetter areas of the site.

Habitat history of Canvey Wick

Although originally coastal grazing marsh, in the late 1960's - early 1970's Canvey Wick was developed as an oil refinery site. Much of the site had also been used to dump sediments dredged from the Thames. This resulted in silty, sandy and gravelly areas rich in shell fragments.

Steve Backshall at Canvey Wick Launch © Buglife

Steve Backshall at Canvey Wick Launch © Buglife

The oil refinery was never used, and decommissioned in 1973. This left a varied site, with wet reedy areas, marshy floods, ditches, ponds, sallow carr, bramble patches, sparsely vegetated gravels, sandy banks, dry grassland, wet grassland and bare concrete.

Over the last 30 years, scrub started to dominate some areas resulting in the loss of open ground and wildflowers, however the site is now being managed to maintain a mosaic of habitats.   

Owned by The Land Trust, Canvey Wick has a bright future. Buglife are working in partnership with the RSPB to manage the site for it's amazing bugs.