My local patch .... St Nicholas Church and surrounding areas, Laindon, Essex

Just a few minutes walk from where I live in Laindon, Essex is my “local patch”, an area of rough grassland, scrub and young woodland centred around St. Nicholas Church.

It is a small oasis of countryside on the edge of the urban sprawl of Basildon, located between the A127 London to Southend arterial road to the north, St. Nicholas Lane to the south, Pound Lane to the west and Basildon Road to the east.

Church Hill cuts through the middle of the area and at the top of this road lies St Nicholas Church. From this high point there are extensive views of the surrounding area. On a clear day, views extend to The Shard in the City of London and Canary Wharf.

St. Nicholas Church

St. Nicholas Church was built in the 13th century. The chancel and south aisle were added in the 14th century. The timber roof is more than 500 years old whilst the oldest part is the nave which dates back over 800 years. A timber annexe was added at the western end, possibly in the 17th century or earlier. This became a Priest's House and also home to the first school in the area. Puckle's School, as it was known, opened around 1837. The importance of the church and its continuing presence was recognised when it was awarded Grade 1 listed building status. The Church serves the Parish of Laindon with Dunton.

St. Nicholas Church sits on top of a hill surrounded by approximately 3.5 acres of land. This is a designated wildlife site, having been set aside for nature conservation.

In 2008, St. Nicholas Church invited the Essex Field Club to carry out a biodiversity survey in and around the church to explore and record as many species as they could find living in or using this valuable habitat. There were 228 plant species recorded, none of which are rare but this number of species in such a relatively small area was described as “impressive” by the Essex Field Club. In addition, various species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and molluscs were recorded.

St. Nicholas Church has previously won the “Essex Best Kept Churchyard Competition”. This competition is run by the Rural Community Council of Essex (RCCE) and aims to recognise and reward churchyards in Essex that are well-managed and which provide a peaceful haven for both humans and wildlife.

My “local patch”

My “local patch” does not include any scarce or rare species .... but I live in hope of recording a vagrant autumn warbler or other species!

My own visits and observations have included the following species:


Resident birds that I have recorded include Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin, Dunnock, Wren, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Goldcrest, Treecreeper (1 record), Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, House Sparrow, Starling, Sparrowhawk (3 records), Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove and Pheasant (1 record).

Whilst I have not seen a Tawny Owl, I have occasionally heard this bird calling at night (from my bed!)

Fly over species that I have recorded to date include Common Buzzard (2 records, both seen from my flat), Heron, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Canada Goose.

With regard to summer visitors, mid to late March sees the return of the first singing Chiffchaffs and as April progresses these are joined by singing Blackcaps, Common Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats.

In addition, fly over Swallows and House Martins can be seen from around mid April and from late April or early May the first Swifts return. In previous years, I have seen Swifts entering the church tower and presumably nesting but in recent years I have seen only fly over Swifts so regrettably it may be the case that they have ceased to breed.

During the winter months, I have recorded both Fieldfare and Redwing but the numbers of both vary according to the severity of the weather.


The most notable mammal that I have recorded is Reeve’s Muntjac. In late October 2016, I heard a “barking” male for several minutes but unfortunately I was unable to see it despite getting very close to the source of the call. In April 2018, I did see one and watched it for a few minutes as it walked around the edge of the graveyard.

The Grey Squirrel is the mammal that I record most regularly.

I record Red Fox fairly regularly during the day and I have also heard these on numerous occasions at night (again from my bed!) especially during the period December to February.

Amphibians and reptiles

I have not been able to record any species of amphibians and reptiles to date. The small pond may contain frogs and/or newts and maybe Grass Snake but it is very difficult if not impossible to access. Various areas look like they contain suitable habitat for Adder, Common Lizard and Slow Worm.


I have recorded the following butterfly species: Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper and Ringlet in the scrub and young woodland areas and Orange Tip, Brimstone, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Large and Small Skippers, Large and Small Whites, Common Blue and Small Copper in the unmown areas in the churchyard and other grassland areas.

Dragonflies and damselflies

I have recorded the following dragonfly and damselfly species: Common Darter, Ruddy Darter and Common Blue Damselfly.

Aerial views of St. Nicholas Church and surrounding areas

Here is a drone film from Daniel Keys sourced from You Tube: