House and Sand Martins at Seething Wells
Even 12 years ago, the natural world of Kingston and environs was very different. Prospect Road, just off the Portsmouth Road was a haven for house martins, who built their nests at the eaves of the cottages. One of the initial campaigners to save the Filter Beds had martins nesting at her cottage. There used to be clouds of them, along with swifts and sand martins, feeding over the filter beds during the summer.
When building a new or repairing the previous years nest house martins are dependent on wet mud. This needs to be located near to the nest site, as the birds can't travel too far with loaded beaks. As the Lambeth Works were developed, (now Simpson Way etc.) supplies of mud were reduced to less reliable seasonal sources from puddles and so became weather dependent. This spring has been largely without rain, topped by strong drying winds, with no guaranteed local supply. It would be good to retain a wet muddy area on the filter beds to try and help secure the future of these wonderful birds.
House Martins usually arrive in our district around the beginning of April according to Surbiton and District Birdwatching Society although it was probably slightly later this year (if at all). There are now < ten nests in the districts of Thames and Long Ditton, less than the former total for Prospect Road. Berrylands is probably the last stronghold for this little bird where they are able to find mud at locations along the nearby Hogsmill river (where there are no concrete revetments). Some of the nests are located within the eaves of the new houses on the Persimmon Homes development on the old filter bed site.
Sand Martins have been slightly more resilient until last year when they lost their nesting habitat. For several years, a limited number of sand martins had nested in the drainage holes of the dip slopes at the filter beds, although a larger number favoured the nearby camp shedding around Ravens Ait. Unfortunately, repairs were undertaken to the camp shedding last year (while the birds were breeding) and the holes that they used to access the iron retainers, were blocked. Perhaps the drainage holes in the dip slopes could be modified in some way to be made more attractive to the birds as they have not taken them up as an alternative this year.
Sand martins arrive almost a month earlier than house martins and there are only two/three known nesting sites in the borough. Currently there are three pairs in the drainage holes along the Hogsmill at their usual place, which may represent the total for the borough.