Basin Notes - April 2005

Britain's precious wetlands - a haven for birdwatchers

The Montrose Basin Local Nature Reserve is a diverse wetland habitat rich in animal and plant life.

Like many other wetlands, the Basin is wild and natural, playing host to thousands of birds, especially in winter.

For the conservationist and birdwatcher, wetlands are a haven to be preserved at all costs, while at the other end of the spectrum the developer sees them as wastelands to be drained and exploited. Due to the latter, wetlands have been lost, resulting in the reduction of many bird populations.

However, as environmental awareness gathers pace, more is being done to preserve wetlands and some are being created artificially

During a long weekend in London in early March, I visited such a place situated within the capital city at Barnes near Hammersmith Bridge, just south of the Thames - the London Wetland Centre.

This site was converted from old reservoirs which once provided London with water. It opened in 2000 and is run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. Its 105 acres comprise a main lake, two lagoons, waders' scrape, grazing marshland, reed beds and numerous other pools.

In all 150 different bird species have been recorded there, plus six different bats and over 300 butterfly and moth species. Breeding birds include lapwing, redshank, little ringed plover, water rail, bearded tit, sedge and reed warbler.

Sand martins breed in an artificially made sand bank. Bittern are seen occasionally in winter and the site supports nationally important numbers of shoveler and gadwall. Peregrine and sparrowhawk are the main avian predators.

Their seven species of fish include perch, roach and pike. Slow-worm and water vole have been introduced but, ominously, mink have been sighted one and a half miles from the site. The latter would really be the water vole's worst nightmare.

Urban foxes are also often seen by the perimeter fence.

Several two-storey buildings make up the visitor centre that includes an impressive glass-fronted observatory hides and walkways throughout the wetland areas offer excellent disabled access. If you ever get tired of seeing the traditional sights of London and want a complete contrast, this centre surrounded by 6.9 million people is certainly worth a visit.

Sightings on and around the Basin this month include the following:
On April 3rd wheatear and stoat were seen, the latter still sporting the remnants of its ermine coat. Water rail and fox on the salt pans were seen on April 10th and near the visitor centre mere were still over 2,000 pink-footed geese feeding around the Basin. On April 17th a red-throated diver was sighted along with the season's first recording of a swallow. Also on that date a green sandpiper - a fairly rare visitor - was seen on the edge of the pond in front of the centre.

The first recorded sighting of an osprey was made on April 20th and it has been seen several times since. On April 23rd a pair of great crested grebes were seen displaying and at the centre the blue tit in the "camera nest box" laid its first egg. Many sandmartins have been checking put their nesting site in front of the centre and a sparrowhawk has also been seen keeping a close eye on proceedings.