Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Woe is Beddington

Beddington Sewage Farm has played a big part in the history of ornithological recording in the London area. It could be argued that its influence has been even more widely felt as such illustrious names as Peter Grant, Bob Scott and Simon Aspinall all honed their birding skills there.

I was first aware of the place when I read about it in John Gooder’s ‘Where to Watch Birds’. On the basis of the promise of good birding  I obtained a permit as a fifteen-year-old in 1974 .I then became an avid Beddington patch watcher in 1975, visiting at least weekly. Back then it didn’t take much to make my day memorable, and I can still recall the thrill of my first ever Wheatear; the sheer stomach-churning excitement as I approached the wader-friendly sludge beds on 100 acre during the summers of 1975-76; spending soporific summer days mist netting Swifts with Ken and Mike when time stretched ahead of me in a seemingly endless run; the golden haze above the top of the rank vegetation that turned out to be tens of thousands of skipper butterflies; the feeling of being in the middle of the countryside with hedgerows full of foaming hawthorn.... 

The Beddington of today is a different place. It has always been a place of industry, but that industry used to be of a gentle nature. Now it is one of violent rape. Vast areas are opened up, lined with old tyres and filled with the rotting waste from South London. Refuse is allowed to be blown across the area which is characterised by plastic bags choking water-bodies. Metal sheers out of the ground to spike the unwary. Mud now oozes over the farm in rivers like congealed arteries. The characteristic birds of the area are gulls and crows, brutish and callous.

I find it hard to enjoy my time there. After regular observations up until the spring of last year I have been back just twice, the last time on Sunday. I enjoyed meeting up with the regular birders but came away feeling unclean, as if the stench and detritus of the place had entered my soul.

Nostalgia always paints a rosy picture of what went before. In this case I don’t think that it is a picture that has been made to appear better because of youth and time. Beddington is blighted, pure and simple. Can the nature survive beyond making record counts of the scavenging gulls and crows? Will big business commit to replacing the habitats they have destroyed with properly thought out and sustainable other habitats? Will the Tree Sparrow population still be there when all the landfill space has been exhausted and tidied up?  I’m not so sure...


  1. 'Strewth! Earlier this evening I was thinking how I've probably played my last game of golf and had my last barbel fishing trip. The latter especially led to a lot of happy reminiscence, and maybe a little nostalgia. Then I read this post. We're getting old matey!! ;o)

  2. Gavin, I find it cathartic to do such things. And yes, we boys of 1957/58/59 are becoming old codgers slowly but surely.

  3. Ouch, below the belt Peter...
    No, I'm not about to give up on the place (although there are some who might think I already have). Beddington means so many different things to so many different people. It is defined by the era that you visited in, what you want to get out of visiting it and, particularly in your case, how much of yourself you have ploughed into it. There is room for honest reflection on a site even if that may not be positive. I do wish the old place well, it really does mean a lot to me even if most of my emotional currency was accumulated some years ago.

  4. Sorry. Indeed. From my point of view Beddington is largely defined by its positive future potential and the people who are going to contribute to that. Indeed it takes all sorts and good luck to em all:-)
    Just had Glauc and Iceland and Roy and I estimated there were 25,000+ birds on site this evening. Blinking magic! :-)