Sunday, 4 March 2012

Welcome to the bogdump

Beddington Sewage Farm has been given the nickname of 'The Bogdump' by some of the members of 'The Beddington Farm Bird Group'. You could take the name as a term of endearment, or accept it as a bittersweet acceptance as to what the area has become. Either way, it is a fairly accurate description of the place.

Historically, to birdwatch on the sewage farm you needed a permit. Once granted (and it was freely done so), you were sent a piece of paper that gave the bearer permission to birdwatch on the premises. I had such a permit from 1974, and was never asked to provide this proof. This was a time when the area was not fenced off from the public, there existed a public right of way that bisected the farm and operations from the sewage works were low-key. It is also a sign of the times that, even though there were areas of sludge into which a whole gang of urchins could disappear, the health and safety police were not around to warn them of such perils.

Since 1990-1991, the whole area has become off-limits. A high fence stops entry, mainly to save the innocent wanderer from becoming victim to heavy plant machinery, industrial debris, steep refuse strewn banks, deep water and effluent, and  - if some people are to be believed - a mutant strain of birder that is capable of eating others. You see, with such big business as landfill and waste disposal, the allowance of the public on site is either forbidden or closely regulated. So, in an act of kindness from big business, some birders were allowed entry behind the fence by means of a magical key. At the time of the magic keys creation, those birders active in the area drew up a list of 'worthies' and the keys handed out. I was not a regular at the time and didn't get one. Was I bitter? If I'm honest, a little bit. Having been one of the few regulars throughout the previous 15 years I though I warranted at least an invitation to join in. Where is all this leading?

There has recently been a suggestion - an accusation even - that the present day key holders might be elitist and inclusive. That those who are allowed into what is arguably one of London's and Surrey's top birding sites have an 'I'm alright Jack' attitude to those who are left pressing their noses up against the chain-link fence. I can understand why this might appear to be the case.

Having been on the outside looking in, it is easy to assume that you are not considered 'worthy' enough and that those on the inside confer superiority on themselves. I can vouch for most of the current key holders in that they are sociable individuals and more than a few of them go out of their way to distribute information from the sewage farm (and beyond). Guided tours are regularly arranged. If a rare bird arrives access is sought with the permission of the site managers.

You can birdwatch over parts of the farm without a key. The south lake, currently being used by several Iceland Gulls, is viewable from a public footpath. The resident Tree Sparrows are also easily seen. More than a few of the current keyholders were once those who began 'outside looking in'. If anybody really wants a key than they can apply to the group to go onto a waiting list, as the group actively seeks out keys to be returned if the holder is not using them.

But a word of warning. Once you are inside the fence, it is not necessarily a pleasant birdwatching experience. A lot of the farm is off limits. It smells. Apart from high summer you will be knee-deep in mud. Big machinery rolls across the land. Rubbish abounds. The ground is an undulating assault couse.

So, if you really want it, welcome to the bog dump!

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