Friday, 24 May 2013

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 people instrumental in the initial campaigns to save the Filter Beds (now sadly deceased) 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. See the video below to observe martins building a nest. 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. If you have any news to the contrary it would be great too receive it.


2 comments:

  1. It's illegal to disturb nesting birds - couldn't some action have been taken to delay or prevent the works on the camp shedding? Disgraceful that they were allowed to block nestholes while the birds were breeding :-(

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  2. Like most people at the time, I'm afraid I looked at the situation and assumed it was being undertaken under some ecological watching brief, as is normal for any Environment Agency project. As a public body they are usually more careful than any. How wrong I was.

    If someone had the time to ring the London office of the RSPB, they might be able to assist with the reinstatement of the nest holes as we could easily supply the records going back to 2010. Unfortunately at the end of the day I think it will be the old chestnut of Health and Safety rules, although ALL the Thames islands have a wildlife designation 'Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation'.
    Thanks for your interest

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