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Ray Island

95ac/38ha  SSSI, SPA

Grid ref: TM 011 154 (click for o/s map)

Updated 02/02/2021.

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This large sandy mound rising out of the surrounding saltings has a shingly foreshore/beach area on its northern side, with a sizeable freshwater pond nearby, and extensive areas of rough grassland. It is grazed by Soay sheep, a primitive rare breed. On higher ground, there are blackthorn thickets and some spectacular old hawthorns.

The southern edge of the island has some of the finest natural transition areas of saltmarsh–grassland–scrub to be found on the Essex coast. The wide range of saltmarsh plants includes lax-flowered sea lavender, golden samphire and sea rush.

Breeding birds include redshank (in some numbers), oystercatcher and shelduck. Large numbers of wildfowl and waders overwinter – flocks of more than 2,000 brent geese are not unusual. All the common finches can be seen throughout the year, but numbers increase dramatically in winter when large flocks feed on the seed heads of sea aster and other saltmarsh plants. Birds of prey are commonly seen, including long-eared owl and short-eared owl, hen harrier, merlin and barn owl.

A number of the commoner butterflies are abundant in normal summers and small mammals, particularly voles, are plentiful.


To the west of the Strood – the causeway that carries the B1025 from Colchester across to Mersea Island. Footpath access for Trust members only across Bonner's Saltings, from 1st March to 31st August. General public access using your own boat, leaving Mersea moorings at high tide and heading up Ray Channel.

Regular bus services (half-hourly on weekdays, hourly on Sundays) run between Colchester and West Mersea and will drop off and pick up at Strood Villa.

Foot access across Bonner's Saltings from 1st March to 31st August only.

From late September through to May for birds; July for acres of flowering sea lavender.

Unsuitable for dog walking.

Check the state and times of the tide before crossing Bonner's Saltings as the pathway is often flooded to a depth of several feet – do not attempt to cross in the two hours preceding high water. The pathway is approximately one mile long and visitors have to negotiate a number of single-plank bridges without handrails. Care must be taken as these can be very slippery. Wellington boots and weatherproof clothing are essential.

© David Nicholls