This 80 acre (32ha) reserve is designated both as a Local Wildlife Site and a Scheduled Ancient Monument. With it's fascinating past it today it provides a green lung close to Colchester town centre.
By road: Close to Colchester town centre with parking at Sussex Road and Hubert Road for main entrances via Lexden Road. Find on the map
By cycle: Colchester by bike map
All day, every day.
The site lies within the broad shallow valley of the River Colne on rising ground south of Cymbeline Way. It comprises a range of grassland, hedges, scrub and woodland vegetation in both wet and dry areas, including acid grassland, marsh, tall ruderal and sown agricultural meadows to the west. Scrub and woodland has developed over some of the formerly grazed grasslands. Hence, the Spinney and Oak Wood are of recent origin.
Most of the vegetation is on acidic soils over glacio-fluvial sands and gravels though there is permanent waterlogging and several ponds in the north of the site.
In the acid grassland - kept short by rabbits - grow species such as early hair-grass, sheep's sorrel, mouse-ear hawkweed and sand spurrey. There is significant invasion of the grassland by oak, thorn, elder and bramble. The grassland is important for invertebrates including minotaur beetle and bee wolf.
Buntings Meadows comprise fields sown with agricultural grasses in the 1990s and is cut annually for hay. The embankments and margins are dominated by tall ruderals and common grasses.
The two blocks of woodland are dominated by oak, ash and hawthorn. The understorey is mainly elder, thorn and gorse. The ground layer is dominated by bramble, ivy, common grasses and ruderals.
The ponds are surrounded by reedmace, reed and reed sweet-grass. Marsh and willows dominate the margins, and these help support a rich insect and bird fauna.
Most of Hilly Fields is designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Excavations in the 1930s and 1970s revealed extensive Iron Age and Roman remains. The site and its adjacent open spaces are now heavily used by local people for informal recreation.
Since the mid 1990s the Council, working with volunteers, has provided and maintained for visitors several entrance and information points, paths, steps, boardwalks, bridges, woodland and pond management, walks, clean-ups and litter picking. The Council looks after the site; a Countryside Ranger has day-to-day responsibility for estate management, community liaison and visitor services.