Kath Cockshaw, Markshall Estate Executive Director, takes us behind the scenes of the scenic Colchester landmark
In July, you will be hosting a Summer Photography Workshop. What can people expect if they get involved in that?
If you’re interested in photography, whatever your level of experience, then this will be the perfect workshop for you. Professional photographer Bryan Shaw will guide you through the key principles of photography, and then you’ll head out into the 200-acre Arboretum to put what you’ve learnt into practice. Bryan has exceptional knowledge of the landscapes and light conditions at Markshall Estate, so you couldn’t ask for a better guide.
Are the Markshall Estate surroundings perfect for photography?
Absolutely! This beautiful conservation landscape sits in the heart of Essex and has over 1,000 years of history to discover. From the ancient woodlands to the world-class Arboretum that has trees and plants from every continent around the globe, no two areas are the same. You’ll definitely be inspired when you visit Markshall Estate.
How long have the public been able to explore the grounds for now?
While many generations will remember visiting Markshall Estate over the years, it was Thomas Phillips Price, the last owner, who could see the global importance of growing our understanding of nature, biodiversity, and sustainable land management. He wanted to ensure that nature is always protected, valued, and managed sustainably here at Markshall Estate, so in his will he decreed that Markshall Estate should be left to the nation for ‘the advancement, in the interests of the nation, of agriculture, arboriculture and forestry’. It’s Price’s mission, written almost 100 years ago, which we follow today. This year marks our 50th anniversary as a charity and we can’t wait to announce our plans to celebrate with everyone later this year.
Did you remain open during lockdowns – and if so, did you sense the local community were really thankful to have this on their doorsteps?
We were able to reopen after the first lockdown and we really loved being able to welcome local visitors and connect people with nature at such a tough time. Spending time in nature has been found to help with mental health problems including anxiety and depression, and to be able to provide a Covid safe space for the local community to escape to at such a terrible time is something we’re really proud of.
What can you tell us about The Arboretum, The Walled Garden, Woodland Walks and The Lakes?
Where do we start?! Markshall Estate spans to 2,350 acres, within which sits an incredible 200-acre Arboretum and hundreds of acres of ancient woodland ready to explore. The Arboretum takes you on a journey through the continents of Europe, South America, North America, and Asia, and is filled with trees and plants you would usually only see across the globe. This includes some endangered and exceptionally rare specimens, such as the striking Wollemi pine collection, the largest in Europe. There are two ornamental lakes that sit in the centre of the Arboretum, rumoured to have been dug by Roundhead troops camped at Markshall Estate during the Siege of Colchester in 1648. These lakes are now home to a thriving population of freshwater mussels along with roach and carp.
Next to the Upper Lake is the 18th century Walled Garden, originally created to supply the family who lived in the Marks Hall with fruit, vegetables, and fragrant blooms for their table. Today it is a mix of traditional and contemporary planting through a series of five separate gardens, crafted by renowned landscape designer Brita von Schoenaich. Surrounding the Arboretum are miles of beautiful ancient woodlands to explore. It really is like walking through history, as you can spot the site of the original Hall, physical reminders of the Second World War including our air raid shelters that are now used as bat hibernacula, and the avenue where carriages would have been driven on their way to the original Hall.
How do you inspire children to learn about nature?
We pride ourselves on inspiring children to learn about nature through a mixture of formal and informal learning. Our home education resources, which are free to download from our website, each have a range of themed activities that mix reading and writing with creative, hands-on learning. We also have a school’s programme to suit learners of all ages, abilities, and learning styles, including home schooled, SEN and SEND learners. Through new knowledge and skills, our young learners develop not only their understanding of the world around them, but a passion for the environment and a drive to learn more.
How can the local community help to preserve what you offer?
As a charity, we rely on the generosity of our visitors, members, donors, and funding bodies. Every time you take a walk in the Arboretum, donate your time by volunteering with us, enjoy a delicious lunch in our café or become a member, you are helping us to fulfil this mission.
What are your hopes for the future of Markshall Estate?
We have come a long way over the past 50 years, and we have so much more we want to achieve. We have plans to make Markshall Estate play a stronger role in the advancement of knowledge and conservation of the natural environment whilst providing you with a wonderful experience, connecting people with nature and inspiring generations to become ambassadors for the environment. As well as our plans to celebrate our 50th anniversary, we’re currently making improvements to our Visitor Centre including a brand-new shop and Plant Centre, and we’ll be creating an 8km cycle path linking Coggeshall and Earls Colne. You can keep up to date with these projects and more on our website and social media channels, just search for Markshall Estate.