In those early years the farm still held onto characteristics of the old-fashioned sewage works, with large open fields that periodically flooded, red brick pump-houses and there were still rows of elms (just about to be decimated by Dutch Elm disease). I saw many species for the first time, including Short-eared Owl, Jack Snipe and Water Pipit - classic Beddington birds. The odd rarer species came along, with Bluethroat, Spotted Crake, Temminck's Stint and Lesser Yellowlegs the pick of the crop.
By 1986 I had wandered away from regular visits, although I did pop in now and again. The farm was fenced by 1990 and only key-holders were admitted, and as a non-regular I was not issued with one. In 1993 I did get my hands on one and spent the next year reliving my youth. The farm was much changed. A lake had been constructed which acted as a magnet to species that had, up until then, been scarce at Beddington, including wildfowl and terns. A birding group has also been formed which was still in its infancy. I must admit to being a bit bemused by it all. This wasn't the same Beddington as I had known and it was full of strangers. I did not really enjoy the experience and I returned my key even though the birding had not been better there since the glory days of the 1940s and 1950s.
Last week I noticed that there was a key up for grabs once again and I applied for it. I'm glad to say that the group has endorsed my application. Once more I will be birding at this historical ornithological site, which has data going back almost 80 years - how many other sites can that be said of? So, why am I returning?
Local patch watching needs to be stimulating. I also reckon that it needs water. My efforts at Holmethorpe have been enjoyable and rewarding, but that site has become very hard to cover effectively. All water bodies are out of bounds and need to be viewed behind fences and high hedgerows. Both Mercer's Lake and Mercer's West are almost impossible to bird. Spyne's Mere can only be viewed from one side. Watercolours will, before long, be shielded by planted trees. Gulls, an interest of mine, are similarly out-of-bounds, spending most of the day within the landfill site. All of this has done much to drive prospective 'patch birders' away. At Beddington, these are not problems. I'm not suggesting that the sewage farm does not have its own local issues, but undisturbed birding, with clear panoramic views, is something that I can expect and will not take for granted ever again. There is a thriving group of birders of which I hope to be an active part of. There will be change from my last stint there in the mid 1990s. The structure of the farm is in flux. Species that did not occur do so now - raptor passage is a newish feature, Caspian Gulls are regular and there is a dynamic flora waiting to be surveyed.
For me, local birding has just looked up.