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The Yeo Valley works, of which Blagdon Pumping Station and Blagdon Reservoir are part, were authorised by the Bristol Waterworks Company Acts of 1888 and 1889. Construction work started in 1891 and eight years later impounding commenced in 1899. The reservoir was first filled to top water level in January 1903 and pumping to Barrow Reservoirs via North Hill commenced in December 1904. It covers 440 acres, is 1.65 miles long and at the water’s edge has a perimeter of 7.2 miles. It has an average depth of 14 feet, which drops to 42 feet at its deepest point. When full it contains 1,860 million gallons and supplies some 2,100 million gallons a year.
© 2009 Bristol Water plc
There are two bird hides, one at Home Bay Point and one at Top End where there is a sightings board regularly updated by voluntary Bird Wardens and other bird watchers. Annual or half-year bird watching permits are available from Blagdon Lodge during the summer and by post or by visiting Woodford Lodge at Chew Valley Lake. Day permits are also obtainable for visiting birders at the above and from Voluntary Bird Wardens. See the Bristol Water plc website for details and charges.
Bird watching permit holders are welcome to walk on tracks along both sides of the lake, though it should be noted that the north shore track is a dead end and does not link up with the Butcombe Bay footpath. Outside the fishing season the south shore track remains open but the north shore track (Nempnett Thrubwell side) is strictly out of bounds since walkers on both sides of the narrow lake would cause significant disturbance to wintering wildfowl. Dogs are not permitted in the reservoir enclosure at any time, aside from along the public footpath and field at the end of Butcombe Bay, and should be kept on a lead at all times.
Starting at the dam, and going anti-clockwise, let me introduce you to the various places around the lake that harbour birds through the seasons and at various water levels.
The Dam; Built of concrete, puddle clay, and faced with Cornish granite this is a favoured haunt of Common Sandpipers on spring and autumn passage. Loafing ducks and moulting Black-headed Gulls may be seen in late summer and, because it is topped with a grass sward, it is also a favourite haunt of the wintering Eurasian Wigeon when the lake is back to top level.
Cheddar Water; Subject to disturbance by anglers during the fishing season but a good spot for Eurasian Wigeon to feed during the winter months.
Pipe Bay; One of the few areas of the lake with emergent reeds used by Reed Warblers, Mute Swan and waterfowl for nesting.
Polish Water / The (Fishing) Lodge; A favoured area for shorebirds (especially Northern Lapwings) and dabbling duck during the summer and autumn when the water level drops though, again, is subject to disturbance by anglers and people visiting the Fishing Lodge.
Tiny's Shallow; A point that is uncovered during low water conditions and is excellent for migrant waders. It was named after the Blagdon Ranger Lawrie Williamson. Common Sandpipers often gather here in the evening to roost, making the job of counting them much easier than by trying to ascertain numbers during the day when they move around quite a lot.
Home Bay; Although the fishing boat landing stage is situated in Home Bay, this is another area of bank where there is emergent reed that harbours nesting Reed Warblers, grebes and duck. A small Common Starling roost sometimes gathers in these reeds during autumn evenings.
Home Bay Point; Although a hide is situated on this point it seems to be visited by anglers far more frequently than by birders. Many moulting Mallard gather here in late summer and if the water level is fairly high with little of the lake margin exposed, Common Sandpipers seem to favour this part of the lake whether it be spring or autumn. There is a large rookery in the trees on the point and during the winter Rooks and Western Jackdaws often gather here to roost.
Long Bay; As the water level drops this bay quickly exposes large areas of mud and attracts dabbling duck and a few migrant waders especially Northern Lapwing. However, walkers along the south shore are prone to disturb waterfowl in the bay and it is best viewed from a car. This is a favourite spot for a Grey Heron to fish.
Green Lawn; Another part of the lake that attracts waders as the water level starts to drop and is especially good for Little Ringed Plover in July although this bank is heavily fished for much of the season.
Holt Bay; Little fished, especially by boat anglers, this bay often provides an undisturbed haven for wildfowl even though the south shore road runs alongside it. For some reason, visiting Ruff often end up here, many for an extended stay. Canada Geese use the bay to fly to and from Holt Farm fields so it is worth scanning the goose flock for vagrants hereabouts. House Sparrows summer in the hedges here, the only location you'll be likely to see them around the lake apart, perhaps, from Rugmoor Gate.
Rainbow Point; An imaginary line drawn between Rainbow and Rugmoor Points effectively divides the lake into two parts; the Dam End and Top End. Rainbow Point is heavily fished during the season and consequently doesn't hold birds for long. It is, however, a great vantage point for today's birder, armed with the latest optical equipment, to quickly scan the whole of the Top End - much of which cannot be viewed without causing significant bankside disturbance. Chaffinches may be found feeding here during winter and early spring before the fishing season opens. It is worth checking through these carefully for Brambling.
Wood Bay; This bay is the area between Rainbow Point and Holt Copse though it has been used in the recent past to refer to the whole area of bank from Rainbow Point to Bell's Bush. It is shallow and often acts as a place for diving duck flocks to sleep in the lee of the headland and for Canada Geese to fly to and from neighbouring farmland.
Holt Copse; Like many of the copses around the lake check these mature trees for Great Spotted Woodpecker and other arboreal species. Spotted Flycatcher and Tawny Owl often breed and a new rookery may be getting established.
Burma(h) Road; This is one of the old, forgotten, names of the lake side that is worthy of resurrection because of the lack of precision in pin-pointing birds if we continue to use Wood Bay for the whole area between Rainbow Point and Bell's Bush. During the winter it is a good area for grebes and sleeping diving duck and in the summer, when the water level really drops, a wide expanse of marginal mud is exposed that is attractive to waders and is probably the best place to find Green Sandpiper.
Hellfire Corner; Said to be named after the Common Coot shooting parties that were held here in winter! The tangle of trees that have grown up in the bay immediately west of Bell's Bush provide a roost for Great Cormorants and diving duck especially Common Pochard. The two small Alder copses either side of the bay are especially good for Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper, Siskin in late autumn and Spotted Flycatcher in summer.
Bell's Bush; Named after the famous fly-fishing GP of Wrington, Doctor Howard Alexander Bell, long associated with the lake and its trout fishing. The meadow here, like all those around the lake, is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is a lovely species-rich grassland. It is a useful place to view Top End when the vegetation grows up in front of the hide blocking the view. Please keep to the edge of the meadow and avoid trampling grass, if visiting.
Wookey Point; The point only gets exposed at low water, mainly in the summer and autumn, and is a super holding point for migrant shorebirds, loafing ducks and gulls.
Top End; Here there is a fantastic tangle of submerged trees that have grown alongside the main feeder stream. Many dabbling duck use this area to rest up during the day but issue out into the body of the lake to feed as dusk falls. This area is much favoured by Gadwall and Eurasian Teal in the autumn and many of the wintering Common Moorhen gather at this end from where they foray out onto neighbouring fields to feed.
Ubley Hatchery; Blagdon Lake's main feeder stream, the Congresbury Yeo, flows from Compton Martin to Ubley Trout Hatchery where it is diverted and used for growing trout that are put back into the reservoirs for sporting purposes. The grounds are an excellent place for wintering passerines including Chiffchaffs and wintering thrushes. I have put up a winter feeding station just inside the gate and this regularly attracts Great Spotted Woodpecker and Eurasian Nuthatches.
Indian Country; This area, opposite Top End hide, is virtually inaccessible to birders and little used by anglers except in low water conditions prior to weed growth. There is a stand of Scot's Pine where corvids and Common Buzzard may breed, and a thicket of shrub layer vegetation that provides an area of dense cover for warblers to breed.
Rugmoor Point; As soon as the water level starts to drop, anglers make for this finger of land that extends well out into the lake. This limits the potential for use by waders, although Common Coots, Mallards and Canada Geese are not so shy. Wheatears are often attracted to the exposed stony bank on autumn migration and this is the place to check for this elusive passage migrant.
Rugmoor Bay; The bay is very shallow and frequently dries up completely in low-water conditions. However, it is especially favoured by dabbling duck during Spring and fall and is worth checking for rarer grebes such as Black-necked around the flooded bushes. Mute Swans often nest in marginal vegetation around the bay. Marginal vegetation is often utilised by Reed Buntings and Reed Warblers for nesting.
Peg's Point; The point is invariably fished during the season, but is attractive to Mute Swan (that have nested here in the past), loafing gulls and wildfowl when vacated. Moulting Canada Geese sometimes use the short sward for grazing in mid-summer when they are flightless.
Paradise; Paradise almost qualifies as a bay between Peg's Point and Ash Tree. There is a small stand of Reedmace Typha latifolia starting to get established here (one of only three at the lake) and this provides food and cover for Mallards and Mute Swan. The stretch of hedge from here to the North Shore gate is favoured by Reed Buntings and Sedge Warblers.
Ash Tree; There is a small copse of mixed (planted) conifers and native broadleaf trees that is large enough to attract several breeding warblers e.g. Blackcap and Chiffchaff, as well as the usual local woodland species such as Titmice, Eurasian Treecreeper, Spotted Flycatcher and Tawny Owl. It is a heavily fished part of the lake and there are very often anglers parked on the grassed area just west of the wood, though Mute Swans often come out of the water to feed on the sward and beg for titbits.
Orchard Bay / Orchard Bay Point
Never Never Land
Butcombe Bay; At high water level, diving ducks such as Tufted and Common Pochard will often be present and as the water level drops increasing numbers of dabbling ducks move in to make the most of the shallow-water feeding. I have noticed during WeBS counts that Grey Herons are often present on the conservation meadow on the east bank outside the fishing season and can easily be overlooked, as they stand, hunched and motionless in the long grass. Presumably, they get some measure of protection from the prevailing westerly winds here. One other aspect of the bay is the fantastic number of corvids that fly over on winter evenings. The flocks comprise Rooks and Western Jackdaws, in the main. As long ago as 1965, Robin Prytherch noted large gatherings of Jackdaws at the lake in winter.
Butcombe Bank; There is an extensively wooded bank along the west side of Butcombe Bay that lends protection from the elements and adds to a sense of seclusion from the main body of the lake. Many woodland species can be found here, including Eurasian Nuthatch on occasion. Waders occasionally feed here as well, but bankside disturbance by dogs straying from the public footpath usually moves them on. Common Kingfishers use the feeder stream from Butcombe for breeding some years and it is not unusual to find a Grey Wagtail or two feeding along the stone embankment.
© 2010 Nigel Milbourne
The lake and its margins are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Natural England. SSSIs are the country's very best wildlife and geographical sites. They include some of the most spectacular and beautiful habitats; wetlands teeming with wading birds, winding chalk rivers, flower-rich meadows, windswept shingle beaches and remote upland peat bogs. A recent review of this site has concluded that it is in 100% favourable condition. See the Natural England website for more information.
© 2010 Natural England
You can also read the Blagdon Lake Biodiversity Action Plan 2008 published by Bristol Water on their website.
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Updated 15 September, 2012