Ray Island is a sandy mound rising out of the saltings close to Mersea Island, Essex, England. It has a shingly foreshore/beach area on its northern side, with a sizeable freshwater pond nearby, and extensive areas of rough grassland. On higher ground, there are blackthorn thickets and some old hawthorns. The southern edge of the island has some natural transition areas of saltmarsh-grassland-scrub.
The wide range of saltmarsh plants includes:
- golden samphire (Inula crithmoides)
- lax-flowered sea lavender, (Limonium humile)
- sea rush (Juncus kraussi).
Breeding birds include:
Large numbers of wildfowl and waders overwinter - flocks of more than two thousand brent geese (Branta bernicla) 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 (Aster tripolium) and other saltmarsh plants. Birds of prey are commonly seen, including long-eared 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.
The National Trust has looked after the island since it bought it in 1970. According to volunteer warden David Nicholls, they bought it for three main reasons: For its literary connection, its use as a picnic area and also the wildlife. Its connection to literature comes through Sabine Baring-Gould, the Victorian Pastor of East Mersea who wrote the novel 'Mehalah.'
Although it is uninhabited, except when visited by picnickers, the island does have a few permanent residents. There is a small flock of rare-breed primitive sheep called Soays which help to manage the vegetation, particularly blackthorn.
- BBC: The Wonderful World of Ray, bbc.co.uk