Saturday, 6 January 2018

An inconvenient truth

Yes, it's time to dig up that old chestnut once again, JUST WHERE IS SURREY?

For some of you it's just that sleepy county south of London where stockbrokers live, the National Trust has an exceedingly high level of membership and millions of cock-a-poos run freely alongside Labrador-doodles. All true, but it is also home to several hundred birders who have an identity crisis, and that is where on earth is the county boundary? From time to time social media reveals a spasm of collective confusion, roughly along the lines of why we should/shouldn't accept Staines Reservoir as part of birding Surrey.


Back in the depths of time Surrey was created, its lands running north to the southern bank of the Thames.

In 1852 a geographical division of the United Kingdom was devised that resulted in clear divisions of the vice-counties, also called the Watsonian vice-counties.

In 1889 the county of London was created and the boroughs of Wandsworth, Lambeth and Southwark were removed from Surrey.

In 1965 parts of Surrey were lost in the creation of the following London Boroughs - Kingston, Merton, Richmond, Sutton and an expanded Croydon.

Also in 1965 Middlesex transferred Staines and Sunbury to the administrative county of Surrey, these two areas being grouped and named Spelthorne in 1974.


The 1852 Watsonian counties were adopted by biological recorders as easily identified units in which to collate and publish natural history records, including the Surrey Bird Club (formed in 1957). This recording unit was maintained even when local government started major surgery (amputation and grafting) in the 1960s. Most recorders sneered at the thought that places like Staines (NORTH of the River Thames for goodness sake) could possibly be in Surrey, even though local government said it was. Most birders looked the other way and considered it to be in Middlesex (which, to their credit, both the Surrey Bird Club and the LNHS do so to this very day.) This ensures that all data, however old or new, is comparable.


Recently there have been signs... the Surrey Bird Club website placing Spelthorne bird news on the recent sightings page... mumbling in the ranks that Staines Reservoir is unarguably in Surrey... a creeping acceptance from the younger and newer birders that this is wholly acceptable... a call for the uncertainty to be finally banished and Spelthorne to be embraced...


These same birders still want to keep the London Boroughs in their version of 'birding' Surrey. Whisper it, but that is mainly down to the presence of Beddington Sewage Farm in said London Boroughs and the (whisper it again) loss of valuable county ticks if it were removed. YES, THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM HAS BEEN REVEALED, THIS IS ALL DOWN TO THEIR LISTS!!! I can see the attraction of Staines as a pukka, bona fide Surrey site - a publicly accessed big body of water that regularly attracts good (even rare) birds. It's something that the county largely lacks.

Now, I enjoy this little Surrey/Middlesex discussion on semantics alone. My county list has little value to me. I would like to keep the Watsonian recording area going for the sake of historical comparison. But those calling for a shake-up, a reassessment of the boundaries for recording purposes cannot have it both ways. Either:
(1) we keep it Watsonian, or
(2) We welcome Spelthorne but have to ditch the London Boroughs. After all, if you want proper Surrey, then these would be the rules.

The listing fall-out would be a spectator sport. I would pay to observe the undoubted drama. Watch this space!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Vice county 17 or piss off. That's all that needs to be understood, really.

  3. Maybe local government needs more birders in its ranks then perhaps they'd leave county borders alone. They only seem to change them when it means they get more money or more votes.

    1. Dave, any county boundary is a political construct which is bound to change in time, but a non-movable recording area helps to maintain consistency.

  4. Keep listing personal. Who else cares about your totals..?

    1. I agree with you Bill, but the listing boys want to know the totals of others.

  5. The pointlessness of Humberside as a county was much debated oop Narth