Beddington Farmlands Bird Group
THE TRANSITION TO BEDS
The late Ken Osborne (2000) describes how after 1965 there were major changes on the farm which greatly affected the bird life. Construction of a new sewage treatment works began in July 1966 and the plant was opened in December 1969. The treatment methods of the new plant enabled effluent water to be released directly into the River Wandle. Dilute sludge was no longer channelled through the grass meadows and the cattle which grazed the meadows were removed. Most of the fields dried out and became overgrown with tall vegetation. This vegetation became too rank, resulting in little insect life and the effect on most breeding, migrant and wintering birds was little short of catastrophic. As an example the Yellow Wagtail population crashed from 20 breeding pairs in 1970 to two pairs in 1974.
Sludge from the new works was initially transported offsite by lorries. However, during 1970 and 1971, many fields were turned into beds for sludge to dry. This involved the stripping of the top soil, removal of gravels, incineration of vegetation and excavation of dry gravel cells or beds. The cattle were redundant and removed only to be replaced by the introduction of horses from local travellers.
At this time, the many mature elms in the hedgerows on site were hit by Dutch Elm disease and by the late 1970s, there were no surviving mature elms. Suckers still occur but as soon as they reach a certain size they too succumb to the disease. The loss of nest sites was probably more important than food. Tree Sparrows were particularly badly affected along with Barn Owl and Kestrel.
The Beddington Ringing Station continued operations through this period with the milestone of 10,000 birds ringed being reached by 1960. In 1961, a hut by the flood tanks along Mile Road became the headquarters of operations. Paradoxically, ringing declined after its acquistion due to the loss of several stalwarts, including Brian Milne and Dai Stephens. However the hut was still in use in the early 1970s before finally disappearing. Not to be thwarted, Ken Parsley continued ringing and trained Mike Netherwood who rings today with Mick Cook.
Beddington, by the early 1970’s was reduced to a dry, partly sterile landscape. Birders visiting the site declined, initiating a negative feed back loop of less birds being recorded.. This situation is hauntingly similar to the state of Beddington at the time of writing (2005).