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The reservoir of Bewl Water is the largest body of freshwater in south-east England, covering more than 300ha, and was completed in the mid-1970s.
It has become an important venue for sailing enthusiasts and fly fishermen and consequently suffers from considerable disturbance, particularly in summer. However, the reservoir is irregularly shaped with many quiet inlets and there is a nature reserve of the Sussex Wildlife Trust in the southern part. The water is rather deep and marginal vegetation is not well-developed and these two factors would normally lessen the lake's attractiveness to birds. Despite this a good range of species occurs both on the water and around the banks and well over 200 bird species have been recorded.
The reservoir is set in a landscape of farmland and woodland patches with dense scrub in some parts. Close to Bewl Water is a large area of conifer plantations known as Bedgebury Forest which includes the famous National Pinetum, a collection of more than 200 species of conifer and probably the best-known site for Hawfinch in Kent.
Although the plantations have a limited birdlife there are areas of chestnut coppice and more open heathlike patches with a greater variety of species.
Although passage periods and winter are undoubtedly the best times for birds at Bewl Water, Great Crested Grebe and Little Grebe are present all year as well as Canada Goose, Mallard, Common Pochard and Tufted Duck with Common Teal also sometimes present through the summer.
In recent years the numbers of Great Cormorant have increased and this is now virtually a resident species. In woods and farmland around the reservoir there are Common Kestrel and Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Tawny Owl, Green Woodpecker and Great Spotted Woodpecker. Summer visitors include Turtle Dove, Spotted Flycatcher and warblers such as Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat, Blackcap and Garden Warbler.
Like other reservoirs in southern England, Bewl Water is now a regular stop-over site for passage Osprey with at least four appearing most autumns and one or two each spring. Northern Hobby is another regular passage raptor but other species are rare. Garganey is also a rare but regular passage visitor.
The banks of Bewl Water are not ideal for waders but small numbers of Little Ringed Plover, Greenshank and Common Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper are regularly attracted in spring and autumn.
Late autumn brings Dunlin, Common Snipe and Grey Plover. Scarcer passage waders include Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew and godwits. Common Tern and a few Black Tern also appear on both passages with small numbers of Arctic Tern and Little Gull in spring. In November a few Dark-bellied Brent Goose may drop down to the reservoir from the flocks which overfly the area. Passerine migrants include such species as Northern Wheatear and Whinchat.
Winter at Bewl Water brings Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall and Common Teal to join the thousands of Canada Goose, Mallard and Eurasian Coot. Common Pochard and Tufted Duck occur in smaller numbers with a few Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail and Common Goldeneye.
Severe weather sees the arrival of Goosander and Smew and other rare visitors may then include Red-throated Diver and Red-necked Grebe with perhaps Black-throated Diver or the scarcer grebes. Scoters and Red-breasted Merganser have also been recorded as well as a Nearctic vagrant, Ring-necked Duck.
Seabirds occasionally occur on the reservoir with records of Leach's Storm-petrel and Shag in recent years.
Fieldfare and Redwing are common in the many hawthorns around the reservoir in winter with flocks of Lesser Redpoll and Siskin joining the commoner finches in the woods.
Rarities noted in the area include Black-eared Wheatear and probably the most surprising of all, a Blackpoll Warbler at Bewl Water in December 1994. Two-barred Crossbill has been recorded at Bedgebury Forest.
Birds you can see here include:
Red-throated Diver, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Great Cormorant, Great Bittern, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Teal, (rare in Su), Mallard, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Common Goldeneye, Smew, Goosander, Ruddy Duck, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Osprey, Common Kestrel, Northern Hobby, Common Pheasant, Water Rail, Common Moorhen, Common Coot, Little Ringed Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Northern Lapwing, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Eurasian Woodcock, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Little Gull, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Black Tern, Stock Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, European Turtle Dove, Common Cuckoo, Little Owl, Tawny Owl, Long-eared Owl, Eurasian Nightjar, Common Swift, Common Kingfisher, Eurasian Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Skylark, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Northern House Martin, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Common Wren, Dunnock, European Robin, Whinchat, European Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Eurasian Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Common Firecrest, Spotted Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, Eurasian Treecreeper, Common Jay, Common Magpie, Eurasian Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Common Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Brambling, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Siskin, Eurasian Linnet, Lesser Redpoll, Common Crossbill, Eurasian Bullfinch, Hawfinch, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting
History and Use
Access and Facilities
Bewl Water lies on the border of East Sussex and Kent and is well-signposted from the A21, the main London to Hastings road.
There is a car-park, information centre, toilets and other facilties and leaflets are available showing various walks around the reservoir. A complete circuit involves a walk of more than 20km so most visitors prefer shorter walks.
An alternative is to return to the A21 and head south, turning off towards Ticehurst. About 3km west of Ticehurst turn off the B2099 onto Wards Lane and park in the quarry. From here a short walk leads to a hide at the nature reserve and shoreline paths.
Other Sites Nearby
A morning's birding at Bewl Water can be conveniently followed by an afternoon visit to Bedgebury Forest.
The pinetum is one of the best sites for Hawfinch in the south-east and, although numbers have declined in recent winters, usually 30-50 birds can be seen flying in to roost in the cypress trees between late November and early March. In addition to Hawfinch the area attracts Brambling, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin in winter. Long-eared Owl also occurs in winter.
Breeding species of Bedgebury Forest include Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Tawny Owl and all three British woodpeckers. An evening visit in summer may produce European Nightjar and Woodcock both of which breed. Other breeding species include a variety of warblers, tits and finches and Common Crossbill sometimes nests after an irruption year.
For Bedgebury Forest leave the A21 on the B2079 towards Goudhurst and after about 2km park in the public car-park. The entire area is crossed by a network of paths and rides which can be explored freely. The Pinetum is sign-posted and there is an entrance fee.
Content and images originally posted by Steve