Beddington Farmlands Bird Group
GRAVEL EXTRACTION AND LANDFILL
In May 1998 the process of gravel extraction and landfill began, leading to a dramatic transformation of the site. At the inquiry, the development was presented as phased with a gravel extraction followed by landfill and restoration where disturbance would be limited to the active phase. The remainder of the site would remain undisturbed. However, over the years, a greater proportion of the farm was allocated for storage of clay, gravel and topsoil.
Inevitably, the number of sludge beds was reduced drastically. The remaining beds on Hundred Acre and the SE were protected by a planning condition and were to provide displacement habitat where birds could still feed and nest while the restored habitats were created and matured. However, the operational needs of sludge disposal dictated that the beds were rotated at a rate which was not optimal. However some compromise has been agreed through the Conservation Science Group.
Within a year of the development, the local authority stipulated that a permissive path was built linking Beddington Park with Mitcham Common that followed the railway line on the west of the site. This path was built and proved very popular with the public and visiting bird watchers. There was also considerable tree planting over the site with over 40,000 trees of several species. As these trees have matured many of the commoner species have benefited and with more habitat available than ever before.
The amount of land taken up by stockpiles of gravel, clay, topsoil was underestimated in the planning application and has severely hindered restoration, which is badly behind schedule. In 2000, the lake was partially re-engineered. Gently shelving and undulating shores have replaced the straight tree-lined banks and two new islands were created. The re-engineering could not be finished due to the need to keep a bund to screen the landfill with the result that the lake’s area was reduced. A southern lake should have been created shortly afterwards but has still to be created. As mitigation, a scrape was excavated in 2001, which over the years has matured providing valuable habitat. The reed bed should also have been created and some of the landfill mounds restored to acid grassland.
For the 2003 breeding season, a deluxe 344 hole Sand Martin bank was completed, however although attracting interest it was not used. It became an embarrassment, particularly since Sand Martins continued to nest in the effluent channel. However, in 2008, Roger Browne started filling holes with sand and before he could complete the job, Sand Martins were busy excavating nests. A total of 12 nests were found at the end of the breeding season.
With the amount of waste, it was only to be expected that recycling schemes would be instigated and in 2004, the first recycling scheme became operational. They are to be applauded but they did take away habitat and will probably delay the creation of wet grassland. In 2005, Viridor submitted another planning application to build an anaerobic digestion plant for treating and recycling the organic material within the waste stream thereby boosting the site’s recycling performance. Like the other recycling schemes, it will be removed once the site is no longer used for landfill. Permission was finally approved in 2008 and the development is now scheduled to end in 2023.
The effect of the development has been a large reduction in the the area of surface water. The loss of the sludge beds was an inevitable consequence of the development and has not been helped by the delay in the creation of the northern and southern lakes, although the scrape has provided some compensation. The other major effect has been loss of habitat as a result of the barren stockpiles that cover large areas. The landscape has changed beyond recognition since the start of the development.
The effect on the bird population has been complex with winners and losers. Winners have been Lapwing, gulls, corvids, Tree Sparrow and some of the commoner species while losers have been migrants, wildfowl and the other specialist species that were characteristic of the farm.
A Conservation Management Plan was set up as part of the development to retain the important species on site during the development. The Plan recognises ten target breeding species, although Common Tern and Ringed Plover, should arguably have never been included. Of the others, there have been two successes. Tree Sparrow and Lapwing are now at historically high levels. The provision of nest boxes and supplementary feeding throughout the year has been instrumental for Tree Sparrows. Lapwings have benefited from more sympathetic management of the beds with the creation of islands specifically for them. However, on the debit side, Yellow Wagtail, Redshank and Little Ringed Plover no longer breed on site. The failure to attract Little Ringed Plover, which was predicted to benefit from the gravel extraction, was particularly disappointing. Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting have declined to levels that cause concern while Reed Warbler has also declined. It is worrying that the development has over ten years to run and yet already three target species have been lost.
Of the remaining breeding species, there has been a small decline in a number of species albeit the only regular species to be lost is Kestrel. It is the occasional nester that seems to have suffered with fewer species breeding. Paradoxically, there has been an increase in the number of pairs, which can be attributed in part to the tree planting: in particular, Robin, Dunnock and Great Tit have doubled their numbers. The overall effect is that there are now numerically more species breeding than before the development.
The landfill operations were beneficial to gulls and corvids with former vagrants such as Caspian Gull, Iceland and Glaucous Gulls putting in more regular occurrences. In 2007 Britain’s first Glaucous-winged Gull visited the farm. Numbers of the commoner gull species, predictably went ‘through the roof’ and the regular occurrence of Mediterranean Gull was welcomed. However, the impact of so many gulls and corvids on site has been a mixed blessing. It may have helped breeding success of Lapwings, the corvids spend all their time on the landfill rather than predating on Lapwing eggs and young. However, it has been detrimental on the lake and scrape both to breeding Little Ringed Plover and ducks and deterring wintering wildfowl from settling.
One of the effects of the substantial reduction in surface water has been the impact on overhead migration. The effect differs with species. Waders, terns and chats seem to be particularly badly effected, although wider trends may also play a part. Even during easterly airflows and frontal systems the birds failed to appear. Wader numbers, even with staging birds, were down considerably, particularly Ruff, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Greenshank. Large raptors may also be affected but not so badly, surface water may not be so important for this group. In 2001, the national invasion of Honey Buzzards was seen at Beddington when 13 birds were logged. The year list has declined and reaches the low 140s rather than the high150s pre-development. However the species list actually hid a more desperate decline, as many species which were regular in good numbers had been reduced to one or two sightings a year. The extreme rarities and new birds generally dried up.
Duck numbers too have suffered from the reduction in surface water. It was the combination of lake and sludge beds that was so important for some species, especially Teal and less so Wigeon and Shoveler. Birds would feed on the sludge beds with a safe roosting site in close proximity. Two other factors may be important, gull numbers and a reduction in nutrient levels that often follows the creation of new water bodies.
With migration reduced to a trickle, much of the ‘magic’ of Beddington Birding was being tested. A few regulars carried on with Garry Messenbird and Johnny Allan persevering at full pace despite the conditions..
Over all, due to landfill, nearly 50% of the regular species to Beddington have experienced some kind of temporary decline. The effects of the development has predictably been negative. The full scale of the effect on the bird life is detailed in independent studies but such a decline is expected in the face of extensive change. It is also understood that such negative changes are necessary and temporary.