Countryside and wildlife
The countryside of the district that we see today is a product of a long history of both natural processes and human occupation. Founded upon rocks dating from the Cretaceous period through later periods, scoured and moulded by the Ice Ages, settled by humans in the Bronze Age, the landscape and wildlife that we see today is a result of complex history.
From the chalk hills in the north-west that rise to 120 metres, the land slowly falls in height towards the south-east, where clay soils predominate. The land is cut by river valleys running north towards Cambridgeshire, and south-east towards the heart of the county. This is the driest part of Britain, with average annual rainfall of about 50cms.
The landscape is mainly an agricultural one, with intensive arable cropping dominating the scenery, but the pattern of small villages, copses and hedges dates back at least to the medieval period. Though modern farming practices have affected wildlife, it is still a rich area for ancient woodland and hedges, but the dry climate means that rivers and wetlands are scarce.
Essex Wildlife Trust has a number of nature reserves that you can visit. These give a good coverage across the range of habitats found in the district. In addition there are many footpaths and bridleways that you can use to walk around the fields and woods in the countryside in general.
Many roadside verges have a good range of flowers and grasses, and some are specially managed for them, but please be aware of traffic on the roads if you stop to look at them. Our wildlife is always changing, for example with buzzards and red kites now beginning to colonise the area, and habitat creation is reversing the declines of recent decades.
You can always begin your visit at Saffron Walden Museum, which has a wildlife display that shows the plants and animals you might find in the local countryside. If you find anything unusual on your walk in the wild, you can report it to the natural sciences officer at the museum.
More information on wildlife in the district can be found on the Uttlesford Wildlife website, which has information on places to visit, things to do, information about roadside verges, a verges cycle-ride, and more.