Hamford Water: Essex wildlife haven that's home to orange seals and Arthur Ransome's Witch's House

Orange seals are a regular sight at Hamford Water at Walton on the Naze in Essex thanks to the iron oxide in the mudflats. Credit: ITV News Anglia
Orange seals are a regular sight at Hamford Water at Walton on the Naze in Essex thanks to the iron oxide in the mudflats. Credit: ITV News Anglia

In a special summer series, ITV News Anglia reporters have been revealing their favourite hidden gems - starting with Hamford Water National Nature Reserve, also known as the Walton backwaters, at Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex.

  • Why it's so special

The Walton Backwaters are still remote and rather mysterious and are a haven for wildlife.

The creeks are regularly visited by little terns, oyster catchers and plovers and are home to an unusually coloured 70-strong seal colony.

As Tony Haggis, who runs boat trips on the backwaters, explains: "The iron oxide comes out of the mud and that floats on the surface and it gets on to their fur. It doesn't do them any harm.

"There was a pup out there, two weeks old and his coat is red already. That's how fast the iron oxide floats on to their fur."

Seven thousand acres of salt marshes, mud flats, creeks, islands and shingle beaches provide a mosaic of habitats for a variety of birds and some of Britain's rarest plants.

Boat trips take visitors out on the backwaters at Walton-on-the-Naze to get a glimpse of the unusual orange seal colony. Credit: ITV News Anglia.
  • Best time to go and why

Summertime brings with it newborn seal pups and birds that come from huge distances to nest there over the summer.  

  • Did you know? 

Children’s author Arthur Ransome was so inspired by the Backwaters in the 1930s, he used it as inspiration for Secret Water - the eighth book in his Swallows and Amazons series. 

Fans travel to the Backwaters every year, with many hoping to stroll past the witch’s cottage.

Its former owner met Arthur Ransome and he told her he wanted to feature the cottage in his latest story telling her: "I'm going to call this Witch's Cottage - do you mind if I put Witch's Cottage in the book?"

Sally Bucklitsch, the owner's granddaughter, said: "She said 'No, that's fine, as long as I'm not the witch'. He said, 'yes, you're the witch!'"

This cottage at Hamford Water in Essex was the inspiration for the Witch's House in Secret Water, the eighth Swallows and Amazons book Credit: Sally Bucklitsch / ITV News Anglia
  • In their own words

This is the 24th year Tony Haggis has been running wildlife boat trips on the Walton backwaters to see the seals. 

“Wherever I’ve been in the world wildlife watching, this is the best place for me," he said.

"It is just stunning. It is so beautiful I love it.

"It’s 7,000 acres altogether. It is a site of special scientific interest, and we’ve got special wetland status because of the amount of marshland, which is very important.

"It is also a national nature reserve. I love bringing people out and showing them everything about the Backwaters and I get stories from them as well.”

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