About the Lakes
All about Bedfont Lakes - to see Events at this venue please check the Events Calendar
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The land where the orchards used to stand belonged to the Duke of St. Albans and was known as Fawn’s Manor Farm. Around 1780 William Sherborn of Bedfont, who was one of a long line of lessees of the land, bought the land outright.
At this time, like most of the surrounding area, the farm was arable land with few trees present. It was not until about 1897 that the land that now forms part of South Side of the Country Park was planted up as an orchard. By this time it was now owned by Mr Sherborn’s grandson, also a William.
A few mature apple and pear trees still exist in the Country Park. These are offspring of remnants from the orchard days as they are mostly unidentifiable Seedlings that are trying to revert to their original type.
In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries the west of London, and the county of Middlesex in particular, was famous for its association with orchards.
Well-respected local farms, such as Whiteley’s of Feltham, used to supply apples, pears and other produce to London’s Covent Garden Market. The orchards in Middlesex were also unusual in that, as well as the fruit trees in the orchards, it was commonplace to plant an undercrop of soft fruits such as currants, raspberries, and gooseberries.
With the expansion of London from the late 1700s orchards were re-sited further out from the city to make way for housing, which meant that the parishes of Bedfont, Feltham, and Ashford became more important for fruit production up to the Second World War.
It was popular for people who lived in London to come to Hounslow on fruit picking holidays, as the borough was considered to be in the depths of the countryside away from the City.
The first gravel extractions on site were carried out in the mid 1860s and involved a small quarry at what is now the northern end of North Lake, adjacent to Clockhouse Lane. The only remaining feature of this extraction site is Finger Island next to Black Hide, which formed the southern boundary. It was later turned into a fish pond.
From the 1930s to the 1950s the site was worked for sand and gravel extraction to provide raw materials for the housing expansion of London and to increase the road network.
For the next two decades the abandoned gravel workings were used as a landfill site for both domestic and industrial refuse. At this time there were not the regulations in place concerning the safe disposal of refuse in landfill sites that we have today, and subsequently this caused problems later on in the site’s history. It was reported that at the time it was the largest pile of rubbish in Europe
The landfill site activity ceased in 1973, leaving a legacy of polluted lakes, derelict buildings, and abandoned machinery.
In 1988 the Council for the London Borough of Hounslow granted planning permission for the surrounding industrial developments and negotiated that the developers create the Country Park as well.
To begin with the former landfill areas had to be made safe, this involved the relocation of two million cubic metres of soil and refuse to enable a pipe-work system to be installed to drain off leachate and other contaminated groundwater.
Vents were installed to allow methane to be released into the atmosphere rather than build up into potentially explosive underground pockets. Much of the soil and landfill was used to form the hills running through the middle of North Side, creating the highest point in the borough at 95 ft above sea level.
The hills were then seeded with a native wildflower mix and areas of trees were planted. The arenas were seeded with a rye grass mix but this succumbed to rust fungus, and fescue and bent grass species naturally replaced the rye grass. The existing lakes were extended and new ones created, and surfaced paths were laid around the 180 acre site.
Bedfont Lakes Country Park opened in July 1995 and was the second largest open space to be created in London in the 20th century.
Since the creation of Bedfont Lakes the floral and faunal communities in the park have been undergoing a long, slow process of maturing and succession. This diverse mix of ecosystems now forms an intricate, species rich landscape that changes with the seasons. In November 2000 Bedfont Lakes Country Park gained Local Nature Reserve status and more significantly was designated as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (of Metropolitan Importance) along with the Princes Lakes complex in 2007.
The site is one of the best places in London for watching wildlife having several habitat types that support a variety of birds, insects, mammals, amphibians, fish, plants and fungi. Over 390 plants and 156 bird species have so far been recorded, an amazing total given the sites recent industrial history, and each year many more new species are discovered.
There are over 390 species of plants at Bedfont Lakes, some of the more common or important species to be found in each habitat include:
- Wet Willow Woodland – Crack Willow, White Willow, Goat Willow, Alder
- Lowland Dry Neutral Grassland – Bee Orchid, Black Knapweed, Ox-eye Daisy, Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Yellow Rattle, White and Red Clovers, Marjoram, Wild Carrot
- Water Bodies – Pond Water Crowfoot, Rigid Hornwort, Greater Spearwort, and various Pondweed species
- Reedbed/fen – Common Reed, Lesser and Greater Reedmace, Water Mint, Purple Loosestrife, Yellow Flag, Gypsywort, Pink Water Speedwell, Water Forget-me-not
- Scrub – Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Dog Rose, Bramble
- Orchard – Apple trees of traditionally grown local varieties; Mistletoe.
Although not classed as plants, they are in their own Kingdom of living organisms, there is also a good variety of Fungi and Lichen to be found at Bedfont Lakes with 144 species recorded so far. Brown Roll Rim, Oyster Fungus, Poison Pie, Velvet Shank, Yellow Brain Fungus, Blushing Bracket, and Warted Puffball are among the commoner species.
With patience, and a bit of luck, you can spot a wide variety of fauna at Bedfont Lakes. However some of our visitors can be secretive and difficult to spot. If you want to find out more about the wildlife why not visit and try the self-guided nature trail, join us on one of our guided walks in our events programme, or bring your school groups in for environmental education. Here is a small selection of the diversity of the wildlife at Bedfont Lakes.
By 2008 156 species of birds have been recorded at Bedfont Lakes. The condition and diversity of the site and its habitats is a significant factor contributing to the number of species that choose to come here and makes it suitable for them to winter or breed on site.
Bittern - The Bittern is a regular winter visitor to the park. Since at least 1995 there has been at least one Bittern using our reedbeds as a wintering ground. The Bittern is a rare bird in the UK. It is estimated that there are only 50-150 birds over-wintering in the UK from mainland Europe and around 50-70 booming males in the summer months. The “boom” is the call males make to attract females whilst they remain deep in the reedbed and it is this choice of habitat that makes the Bittern so rare in the UK. When startled, the Bittern puts its head straight up in the air and becomes excellently camouflaged amongst the reeds.
Smew - These are small diving-ducks belonging to a group known as the Sawbills, which feed upon small fish and aquatic insects. The males are white and black, and the females white with red heads. They may be seen on the larger lakes here during the coldest winter spells. This area of southwest London is nationally important for Smew as most of their number winter here.
Common Tern – A summer visitor to the UK, Common Terns migrate from their wintering grounds in Africa to spend the summer months here on their breeding grounds. They nest in scrapes on bare ground and shingle on beaches, and islands in large bodies of water. To encourage them to nest at Bedfont Lakes we have constructed floating rafts, which are anchored out on North Lake and are visible from the bird hides overlooking North Lake.
Kingfisher – This small, bright blue and reddish-orange bird dives for small fish from a perch a metre or so above the water. One of the best places to try and view this behaviour is looking straight out across South Lake from the pier where they may be seen at all times of year.
Skylark – Present all year, but most visible during the summer, these birds sing by flying high into the sky and then ‘parachuting’ slowly back to the ground, singing their elaborate song all the way. In winter they are harder to see but can be found feeding on the arenas.
During the winter months Jackdaws and Carrion Crows put on an impressive display at dusk where a huge flock, usually between 3,000 and 4,000 birds, pile into their woodland roost at the end of the day.
Other birds that may be seen at Bedfont Lakes include: Great Crested Grebe (on our logo), Linnet, Reed Bunting, Song Thrush, Dunnock, Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler, Common and Lesser Whitethroats, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Great Tit, , Chaffinch, Long-tailed Tit, Little Owl, Hobby, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Cormorant, Water Rail, Black-headed Gull, Blackcap, Mute Swan, Grey Heron, Teal, Gadwall, Pochard, Moorhen and Coot to name but a few.
Many of the mammals present are very secretive and/or nocturnal so they can be hard to spot, but knowing where to look and sitting quietly is very often the best tactic to adopt.
Red Fox – the best times to look for a Red Fox is at dawn and dusk. The wildflower meadows and hills by the railway line are where they are most likely to be seen, as well as the woodland opposite the pier in South Lake. A true scavenger, the Red Fox eats anything from insects and birds to uneaten food left in the park and bins.
Rabbit – Easily spotted, rabbits are numerous within the Country Park. Most of the rabbits are brown but there are one or two black rabbits on the site. It is likely that they are black as a result of an inherited genetic fault known as melanism. Every year there are 2 or 3 new black rabbit kittens around the South Lake warren area. Very few are seen to survive to adulthood. This may be because they are easier to spot by predators.
Stoat – A small, but voracious predator, a mature male is capable of killing and carrying an adult rabbit. They can live for up to 10 years and are able to travel up to 5miles/8km in one hunting session. Stoats and Weasels (also present) are often confused. The main differences are that the underside of a Stoat is a yellowish white, on the weasel it is pure white. Another difference is the stoat has a black tip to its tail, the weasel doesn’t.
Bats - The Country Park also has regionally important bat populations present, of which the Nathusius’ Pipistrelle is particularly rare. In 2008 ours was only the second communal roost site for this species site to be found in England, the first being in Lincolnshire.
Others bats species recorded here are: Common and Soprano Pipistrelles, Daubenton’s, and Noctule, Serotine, and Leisler’s bats. Our guided bat walks on warm, still summer evenings are your best bet of hearing or seeing bats in the Country Park.
The site is also inhabited by Field and Bank Voles too. They are common mammals who like grasslands and hedgerows with dense ground cover, but the Bank Vole also likes woodland. They are of similar size, both around 9-11cm in length, not including the tail.
Bedfont Lakes also has large numbers of Britain’s commonest rodent, the Wood Mouse. These can be confused with both Bank and Field voles. However, they have much larger and more prominent eyes and ears and are a rich chestnut brown colour.
Prior to 2008 there had been only one record of a genuinely wild reptile in the Country Park since it opened. This was of a Common Lizard in 1997. In 2008 two juvenile Grass Snakes were found along the Railway Line path grasslands.
Common Frog – Common Frogs have the ability to lighten or darken their skin to match their environment, and are able to breathe through their skin which helps them remain underwater or in mud for several months whilst they hibernate through the winter. Frog spawn is deposited in large round clumps and can be seen between December and April; depending on how warm the weather is, though March is the normal main spawning time. The tadpoles emerge after 30-40 days in the spawn and carry on the process of metamorphosis as they turn into an adult frog.
Common Toad – distinguishable from the Common Frog by its more “warty” brown, not green, skin and the fact it prefers to walk rather than jump. Its spawn is also distinguishable as the Common Toad lays a string-like length of spawn rather than clumps. On average, they are also slightly larger than the Common Frog at around 8-13cm in length.
Marsh Frog – the largest frog native to Europe, they were introduced into the UK at Walland Marsh, Kent in 1935 and are now fairly common in Kent, Sussex, Surrey, South and South West London. During the mating season males can be heard, maybe even seen, croaking around all of our lakes, but mostly the Fishing Lake and South Lake by inflating the vocal sacs at the side of their mouths. Their call can be described as a chuckling sound.
Smooth Newt – the most widespread newt in Britain, the Smooth Newt can grow up to 10cm long. Newts have a tadpole stage also, but instead of being called tadpoles they are known as efts. This newt lays individual eggs which are wrapped in pondweed by the female.
Please DO NOT release any animals into the Country Park without gaining permission from the Countryside Rangers first, as you could be breaking the law.
All the lakes at Bedfont contain a variety of fish species, at present, there is NO fishing in any of the lakes. Anyone caught fishing on any of the other lakes will be referred to other lakes in the borough. Repeat offenders will face a ban or prosecution. For more information on fishing please contact the council on 020 8583 2000 or www.hounslow.gov.uk.
Fish present in the lakes include: Pike, Tench, Common and Mirror Carp, Perch, Bream, Roach and Rudd, and the tiny Stickleback.
The habitats at Bedfont Lakes attract many species of butterflies from spring through to autumn. 25 species of butterfly have been recorded including Brimstone, Red Admiral, Clouded Yellow, Peacock, Speckled Wood, and Essex Skipper.
The large lakes at Bedfont, the reedbeds, and wet woodland, provide habitats for some much localised habitat specific moths. The Goat Moth caterpillar feeds on deciduous trees, particularly willow, for up to 5 years then pupates into adult moths flying in June and July. Our colony is one of only two known in the whole of London. Many larvae of the Wainscot family of moths feed specifically on Common Reed and as a result we have found a dozen species of Wainscots at Bedfont Lakes.
The lakes are also host to a range of dragonfly species that can be seen in the summer time as they hunt, fight, display, and lay eggs. These include Brown Hawker, Emperor, Black-tailed Skimmer, and Common Darter. The smaller related damselflies include; Common Blue, Red-eyed, Blue-tailed, and Azure.
Around the Country Park there are large piles of rotting logs and tree stumps. These provide a perfect habitat for, amongst other species, beetles, most notably the Stag Beetle. This is Britain’s largest beetle and its numbers are falling across the whole of Europe. The males have large mouthparts that look like a stag’s antlers and they can measure up to 7.5cms in length. During the summer months Stag Beetles can be seen flying late in the afternoon and into the evening. They are completely harmless.
There are a number of different habitats at Bedfont Lakes Country Park and it is this mix that provides niches for plants and animals to thrive in. A number of these are habitats of priority conservation concern under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) where the government has set out to protect these habitats in response to the Convention on Biological Diversity 1992.
One of these is Wet Woodland, which is found in the main nature reserve area. This is woodland usually dominated by species of Willow or Alder and tends to have rich and wet or waterlogged soils. It is estimated that there are only around 50,000–70,000 hectares of wet woodland in the UK and it is both the scarcity of this habitat and the diversity within that makes wet woodland important.
Lowland dry neutral grassland makes up a large proportion of the habitats over most of the site. The hills and meadows alongside the railway line are a prime example of this. A low level of available nutrient in the soil is a key requirement in conservation grasslands as many of our native herbaceous plants have evolved to survive specifically in this open habitat. As soon as extra nutrients are available it paves the way for more dominant species to encroach on the grasslands and succeed this habitat; bramble is a prime example. The scrub that succeeds the grassland is important in its own right, but is much more common throughout Britain as a habitat than lowland dry neutral grassland is. Our meadows provide a rich floral display during spring and summer with plants including: Ox-eye daisy, Common Birds-foot-trefoil, Black Knapweed, Field Scabious, and Yellow Rattle, though there is a change in the mix of species in flower through the months. These flowers are an important source for nectar feeding species.
There are a number of water bodies at Bedfont Lakes. North Lake is the largest; its deepest point being 16metres/50ft. The lake’s area and its depth combine to give a large volume of water allowing fish such as Pike to grow very large. It also enables birds to hunt fish underwater including; Cormorant, Smew, and Great Crested Grebe. The small ephemeral ponds along the railway line are particularly important for wildlife, including amphibians.
Reedbed is another growing habitat at Bedfont Lakes. Reedbed is considered a high priority habitat for wildlife conservation as it is a declining habitat in the UK caused by natural succession to wet woodland, dredging, lack of appropriate management, and floodplain draining for development. Reedbeds are primarily made up of Common Reed, the UK’s tallest native grass. They are important to a large number of species; at least 700 species of invertebrates have a close association with reedbeds for example. At Bedfont Lakes they are home to over 50 pairs of breeding Reed Warblers, and less common birds such as the Reed Bunting and Water Rail, and to healthy populations of some species Wainscot moths of which a dozen species have been recorded here.
In the main reserve area there is a long stretch of bare earth bank. This south facing bank gets very warm in the summer sun and provides the perfect habitat for mining bees and solitary wasps. One particular mining bee, Nomada xanthosticta, has been found on this bank. This small bee is considered to be a species that is at high risk of extinction and is listed as such by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
Situated in a closed-off section on South Side is located one of the UK’s scarcest habitats, traditional orchards. In the 1800s c.40% of the London Borough of Hounslow was covered by orchards. Today there are no commercial orchards and only three conservation orchards left in the borough covering a couple of hectares. The Orchard at Bedfont Lakes is a restored area, based around several mature trees, that has been extended with young, traditionally grown local varieties such as Annie Elizabeth, Pinner Seedling, and Catshead.
Nationally, traditional orchards are now listed as a UKBAP habitat home to several species that are reliant wholly or largely on old fruit trees for their survival. In our orchard we have Bullfinches that feed on the young buds, and we have also taken part in a project to increase Mistletoe in the area by smearing berries onto the fruit trees. The grassland here is managed as a wildflower meadow, and this is home to many small mammals, birds, and insects.
The landscape and habitats at Bedfont Lakes are actively managed to try to increase species diversity. This management regime is carried out throughout the year with surveying done in the summer months and proactive habitat management completed outside breeding/growing seasons in the winter. The winter management is driven largely by the results of the various monitoring programmes.
Starting in winter, sections of reedbed are cut once every 4 years to stop them succeeding into willow scrub and ultimately woodland. The leaf litter is also raked off from the base of the reeds to stop sediment building up, which would trap silt around the reedbed and lead to encroachment by willows. Some insect larvae, such as Wainscot moths, develop in the reed stems for a number of years; hence the reason for a 4-year cycle before we cut the same section again.
Where succession is advancing, willows have started to grow and mature in the reedbeds. The Countryside Rangers remove them as they dry out the beds and stop light getting to the reeds themselves, as well as adding a considerable amount of leaf litter, thus speeding up the process of succession. Reedbeds are one of the UKBAP priority habitats.
The meadows and most other grassland areas in the Country Park are managed for wildlife too. They are cut at the end of summer and the risings removed to reduce the level of nutrients returning to the soil, thus ensuring they remain in an optimum condition for the more herbaceous species of plants.
In the main nature reserve woodland area, glades and rides are cleared in the ground vegetation to create subtly different habitats and microclimates allowing sunlight to reach the woodland floor. These slight differences allow a wider range of species to inhabit this area than if the habitat were the same throughout. For the most part, much of the scrub is left as it provides good nesting habitat for birds and is also heavily populated with insects.
Obvious man-made influences within the Country Park are the bat and bird boxes and the tern rafts. The bat boxes are crucial to help support populations of bats in the Country Park, particularly the rare Nathusius' and Soprano Pipistrelles. The tern rafts provide a breeding habitat for Common Terns, which breed on North Lake between April and August. The chicks reared by the terns are ringed and recorded every year by Runnymede Ringing Group who also record and ring birds caught in mist nets in the main nature reserve throughout the year.
Moth trapping, butterfly surveys, and a variety of bird surveys are conducted in the summer months. Throughout the year Wetland Bird Surveys counts are carried out. Other monitoring programmes include; vegetation structure, water levels, plant communities, bat roost numbers and general observational recording.
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