Beddington Farmlands Bird Group
THE LAKE , SLUDGE LAGOONS AND BEDS
Three unrelated events were instrumental in contributing to Beddington’s second golden era, which can justifiably be classed as a heyday rivalling the nostalgic period of the 1950’s. This was an era of hundreds of wintering wildfowl, a burgeoning breeding population and unprecedented migrations and vagrancy. It was an era of breeding Marsh Warblers, ‘breeding’ Bluethroat, ‘breeding’ Grasshopper Warbler, the return of Short Eared Owls and Barn Owls, wintering Long Eared Owls, the mass colonisation of warblers including over 100 pairs of Whitethroat, 20 pairs of Reed Warbler and 28 pairs of Sedge Warbler.
The first event was the excavation of a lake In 1990 as part of a local flood defence scheme, which for the first time presented a large open area of freshwater. This lake has revolutionised the opportunities for bird life at the farm, with a colonisation of multiple freshwater species. The regular birdwatchers at the time realised the potential of the lake and asked Thames Water if it could be made more bird friendly. The outcome was for three islands to be created and a floating wooden raft to attract Common Terns to breed.
The second event was the increasing volume of sewage to be disposed. There was a steady conversion of grassland to sludge beds. The last remaining field, Keeper's Gate was converted to sludge beds in 1994. At the end of this period, there were about 180 sludge drying beds on the farm and no significant areas of grassland remained.
The third event was the removal of horses. The number of horses on site had been relatively low, but in the late 1980s, their number increased until about two hundred were present. The effect was to seriously overgraze the farm, particularly in winter, and many of the hedgerow trees had their barks stripped. The condition of the horses was often poor, and there were allegations of an unregulated meat trade and the RSPCA were called out on more than one occasion to remove emaciated horses from the farm. All the horses were removed from the farm in 1991 This overgrazing of the farm was detrimental to the bird populations chiefly affecting nesting habitat. Many passerines have benefited from the recovery of the vegetation following the severe overgrazing.
The association of easterly airflows and frontal systems with overhead migration, was firmly established and the full extent of associated phenomena were uncovered. This contributed to the occurrence of vagrant seabirds, overhead raptor and shorebird migration, plus mass movements of passerines and hirundines. Many of these migrants drawn into the Beddington catchment by the highly visible large areas of water would often utilise the farm for a re-fuelling area. This resulted in the magical sight of flocks of Black Tern hawking over the lake, low flying raptors, hovering Ospreys, plunge diving white terns, large groups of waders alighting on the islands and flocks of Yellow Wagtails re-fuelling during inclement conditions.
This was also a time of great rarities. In 1993 the farm hosted the British Isles first over wintering Rustic Bunting which was associating with a Little Bunting! The same year saw a juvenile Citrine Wagtail and in total there were a record breaking 164 species recorded with six first’s for Beddington. Red Throated Pipits put in a bizarre regular appearance during the 1990’s and other great finds included Ferruginous Duck, Great Skua, Velvet Scoter, Red Necked Grebe, Golden Oriole, Eider (see systematic list), Green Winged Teal, Common Rosefinch and Tawny Pipits. There were also a record 49 breeding species holding territories and 164 species recorded on the farm. Probably the best Beddington year ever as habitat condition, observer coverage and weather conditions came together to bring out Beddington’s full potential
In the summer of 1992, the whole farm was enclosed by security fencing and access prohibited. This fencing threatened access to the site for birdwatchers, who understood at the time that no access was to be permitted. Discussions quickly ensued between Thames Water and the regular birdwatchers. An agreement was reached where 25 named key holders would be permitted to enter the site under licence from Thames Water. Ian Beames was instrumental in drawing up this agreement. The key holders formed the Beddington Farm Bird Group. In the birding department key figures included Gary Messenbird, Johnny Allan, Andrew Pearson, Nigel Webster, John Walsh, Nick Pope, Steve Broyd, Neil Stocks, Andy Taylor, Roy Weller and Kevin McManus while the ever important conservation people included key figures as Derek Coleman, Richard Bosanquet, Philip Chasteauneuf and particularly Dave Eland. The immortal Mike Netherwood and Mick Cook continued their sterling ringing work which by now was in it’s third decade.
However all good things must pass and by no means was this a period free of concerns. By 1998 Yellow Wagtail had disappeared as a breeding species and from 1997 the farm began to square up to the gathering storm clouds building on the horizon.
As the sewage system became more over-whelmed, the turning over of sludge in the beds resulted in insufficient time between application and drying to be of any use to birds. This was a problem that had been encountered 50 years early as history began to repeat itself and in the same way it was also to be the harbinger of large-scale change.
In 1993, a planning application was submitted by Thames Water for gravel extraction followed by landfill, the site would then be restored for wildlife and people. This application was vigorously opposed by the local authority, London Ecology Unit, London Wildlife Trust and Beddington Farm Bird Group. The wildlife reasons were that an important wetland site would be replaced by a domed landscape that would have little wildlife value. In February 1995, a public inquiry was held to resolve the issue. Derek Coleman and Martin Boyle represented the London Wildlife Trust and BFBG at the inquiry mounting a determined effort to oppose the development. However, the Inspector approved the scheme which began in May 1998 and was scheduled to finish in 2015.
Thames Waste Management, a subsidiary of Thames Water Utilities operated the landfill operations and was responsible for restoration. In 2004, Thames Waste Management was acquired by Viridor Waste Management who took over the landfill and restoration.
A Conservation Science Group had been set up to oversee the nature conservation interests of the development. Whilst its aims are entirely laudable, the years ahead would prove how rarely the good intentions of the Conservation Science Group were fulfilled as operational needs inevitably held sway.
Mike Netherwood and Mick Cook were rewarded for all their years of ringing. In August 1997, they ringed a first winter male Bluethroat only to control it in June 2000. It was heard singing and remained on site into July. Whether it was the young of a breeding pair and had returned to breed remain an open question.