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Abberton Reservoir - BirdForum Opus

England, Essex


Abberton Reservoir, owned by Essex & Suffolk Water, is situated near Colchester, Essex and is the largest freshwater body in Essex. Abberton has long been regarded by birders as one of the best artificial waters in England and is one of the most important sites in Britain for wildfowl. Abberton has recently undergone major development work to increase storage volume by 58% and to raise the main dam by 3.2 meters, this also includes removing the previous concrete edging of the reservoir and re-profiling the shoreline to create natural edges. The development work also looks to increase and improve the habitat for the birds and other wildlife by creating larger reed beds, new lagoons, the planting of thousands of trees around the reserve and also erecting an Osprey platform in the near future


Notable Species

Waterfowl are obviously the the main attraction but the reservoir also has grebes and sometimes divers in winter and waders and terns on passage. Numbers of wintering waterfowl can reach many thousands and this site is one of the most important in eastern England.

Common Tern breeds on an artificial raft and there is a tree-nesting Cormorant colony, a common sight on the Continent but rare in Britain. Canada Goose, Shoveler, Gadwall and Mallard breed as well as Tufted Duck, Coot and Moorhen, and Ruddy Duck has now colonised.

There are many planted trees and scrub with breeding warblers, Yellowhammer and Linnet. Reed and Sedge Warblers and Reed Bunting breed around the reservoir's edges. Ringed Plover has bred but occurs mainly on passage.

Teal and Wigeon are the most numerous wintering ducks but Shoveler, Pintail and Gadwall also occur in good numbers along with Pochard, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye. Smaller numbers of Shelduck, Goosander and Smew also occur.

A flock of Bewick's Swan is regularly found in the area and divides its time between here and Old Hall Marshes and often associates with a wintering flock of White-fronted Goose. Lapwing, Golden Plover and Snipe winter on surrounding farmland and the reservoir has wintering Great Crested and Little Grebes. These are sometimes joined by scarcer species and particularly Black-necked and one or two divers are seen in winter, usually Red-throated Diver but occasionally other species.

Hen and Marsh Harriers and Merlin are regular autumn and winter visitors and in some years are joined by Rough-legged Buzzard. Osprey is an increasing passage visitor to Abberton.

Garganey is regular in small numbers in spring and Red-crested Pochard is an annual visitor usually in autumn. Terns are common passage visitors and include Black Tern during both seasons. This is also one of the most best sites in Britain for White-winged Black Tern.

Regular waders include Whimbrel, Ruff and Wood, Green and Common Sandpipers, 'shanks, and Little Stint and numbers are highest when water levels are low exposing larger areas of mud.


Abberton has a well-deserved reputation as a rarity haunt with vagrant waders particularly frequent. Baird's, White-rumped, Pectoral and Buff-breasted Sandpipers have all been recorded as well Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-winged Pratincole and Long-billed Dowitcher. In 2012 it also produced Essex's 3rd ever Desert Wheatear

Rare waterfowl have included Ring-necked and Ferruginous Ducks, Green-winged Teal and even Baikal Teal, albeit a dubious record. A drake Canvasback has wintered here for several years in succession.


Birds you can see here include:

Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Horned Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Great Cormorant, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Bewick's Swan, Greater White-fronted Goose, Canada Goose, Common Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Common Goldeneye, Smew, Common Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Western Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Rough-legged Buzzard, Osprey, Merlin, Water Rail, Common Moorhen, Common Coot, Little Ringed Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Golden Plover, Little Stint, Temminck's Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ruff, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Little Gull, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, European Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Tern, Black Tern, White-winged Tern, European Turtle Dove, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Skylark, Barn Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Common Nightingale, Sedge Warbler, Common Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Eurasian Magpie, Carrion Crow, Eurasian Linnet, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Corn Bunting

Other Wildlife

Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas, Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris and Common Blue Polyommatus icarus are among the butterflies to be seen at Abberton. A variety of Dragonflies and Damselflies can also be found. Hares can be seen on the reserve too.

Site Information

Areas of Interest

A lagoon recently dug within the reserve is now attracting waterfowl and breeding passerines in surrounding scrub.

Access and Facilities

Abberton Reservoir lies about 10km south-west of Colchester and can be reached on the B1026. about 2km past the village of Layer-de-la-Haye there is a turn-off signposted to the nature reserve car-park.

The reserve is open 09.00 until 17.00 every day, except Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Access to the perimeter of the reservoir is limited to permit holders but much can be seen from the surrounding roads.

A causeway provides excellent views over the water and further south the B1026 turns sharp left and a minor road from here signposted to Layer Breton leads to another causeway, again giving good views of the water and banks.

There are two trails to follow from the visitor centre both with hides giving good views over the water. Two of the hides have disabled access.

Map Reference: TL 962 177

Contact Details

Abberton Reservoir Visitor Centre Church Rd Layer-de-la-Haye Colchester Essex CO2 0EU

External Links

Content and images originally posted by Steve