Middlewick Ranges - in defence of the ‘Wonderful Wick’

Middlewick Ranges © Richard Martin

On the southern edge of Colchester lies the wildlife-rich grasslands of Middlewick Ranges. A true biodiversity hotspot and much-loved community space – but sadly identified as a future housing area in the Council’s Local Plan.

Sometimes, perhaps unexpectedly, the best places for wildlife are on the edge of a city. Middlewick Ranges is a Local Wildlife Site and the largest area of rare acid grassland in Essex. To date, its use as firing range by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has saved it from development and protected its truly fantastic array of wildlife.

The diversity of invertebrates at Middlewick is outstanding, with nearly 1,500 species recorded, including 167 species of conservation concern – over 11%. It is also at the heart of the Essex Coast Important Invertebrate Area.

Incredibly, a quarter of all the UK’s spider species have been recorded here, including the Vulnerable Six-spotted Mouse-spider (Phaeocedus braccatus). It is also home to a quarter of all of Essex’s recorded butterflies and moths. Threatened species have found a refuge here, including the striking Endangered Necklace Ground Beetle (Carabus monilis) and the Four-banded Weevil-wasp (Cerceris quadricincta), a wasp only found in Essex and Kent.

The site’s value for wildlife does not stop at invertebrates. Middlewick has one of the most important Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) populations in the county and many other declining bird species also breed here. The grassland supports reptiles, amphibians and mammals and conditions allow a specialist Waxcap fungi community to thrive.

Necklace Ground Beetle (Carabus monilis) © Matt Berry Necklace Ground Beetle (Carabus monilis) © Matt Berry

Called the ‘Wonderful Wick’ and Colchester’s ‘Green Lung’ by local people, the site is a cherished and important green space. Its inclusion in the Colchester Local Plan in 2016 led to the formation of an active local campaign to save the site, supported by thousands of local residents.

With the Range no longer in use by the MOD, its inclusion in the Local Plan casts a looming shadow over the site. There is a real chance that the Ranges will be sold and 1,000 homes built – destroying and fragmenting this unique habitat. Local Wildlife Sites should be the building blocks for nature’s recovery, especially a site as important as Middlewick. If development was to go ahead, it would set a dangerous precedent of government departments facilitating the destruction of important nature sites and going against their own commitments to halting declines in biodiversity by 2030.

Bugilfe is part of a coalition to get Middlewick Ranges removed from the Local Plan and develop a vision for its long-term future that protects it for wildlife and people.

Four-banded Weevil-wasp (Cerceris quadricincta) © Andrew Whitehouse Four-banded Weevil-wasp (Cerceris quadricincta) © Andrew Whitehouse

Middlewick Ranges Community Campaigners © Richard Martin

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