Surrey Docks

From Londonbirders

Website/Map : [1] ~ [2]

Sited along the eastern edge of the Inner London sector (Surrey in Inner London and London Borough of Southwark) and easily accessible via public transport with Canada Water on the Jubilee Line being the closest underground link.

Surrey Commercial Docks aka Rotherhithe or Surrey Quays were working as such, with varying degrees of intensity, between the years 1696 and 1969 when they basically closed for business due to changing economic factors and lessening waterborne commercial trade.

Historically speaking, this area is rich. Rotherhithe was the place, in 1620, where the Pilgrim Fathers set sail on The Mayflower. In 1696, the family that owned the land (the Howlands) instigated work on the construction of the world's largest (at that time) commercial wet dock. By the mid 1700s the area had become a home from home for Arctic whalers with the dock acquiring the name Greenland Dock. During the 1800s a series of smaller docks were constructed to meet the needs of riverine traffic from as far afield as Scandinavia and Canada, with many of these smaller docks taking on geographical names associated with these regions.

During WWII the docks suffered enormous air raid damage and subsequently fell into rapid economic decline, finally shutting their doors for trade in 1969. The whole site was then left to its own devices over the next decade, 90% of the docks were infilled and general dereliction ensued. The remaining bodies of open water are still present today; Greenland Dock, South Dock, the remains of Canada Dock (now Canada Water), Norway Dock and Surrey Water.

In 1981 the London Docklands Development Corporation invoked a programme of redevelopment that resulted in the construction of over 5,000 new homes, South Dock converted into one of London's largest marinas and Canada Water, along with the infilled Russia Dock and an old timber pond, being converted into small nature reserves.

The two nature reserves on the Rotherhithe Peninsula are both currently managed by The Trust for Urban Ecology; Lavender Pond Nature Park is a tiny 2.5 acre site at the northern tip of the peninsula, created in 1981 on the remnants of an old timber pond, and comprises some open water, reeds, and alder (in fact the whole of the Rotherhithe Peninsula is exceedingly plentiful in alder). The other reserve is Stave Hill Ecology Park, sited near the centre of the peninsula and 5.2 acres in extent. It is a patchwork of (mainly) deciduous woodland (including alder, birch and willow), some scrubby areas, grassland, and little wetland spots, there is also a small working farm toward the northern tip of the peninsula. Add to this the tidal Thames bordering the area to the north, and there's some reasonable scope for bird finding.

Species have been relatively noteworthy and Surrey Ducks can claim records of both American Wigeon (the only accepted, though contentious, London area records to date) and Aquatic Warbler. The area also had exceptional (in modern day terms) Inner London breeding records of species such as Red-legged Partridge, Little Ringed and Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Yellow Wagtail and Reed Bunting and presently it is the only site within Inner London where Common Tern breeds (one, occasionally two, pairs most years). Other breeding species which may be encountered these days include Great Crested Grebe, Tufted Duck, House Martin and Reed Warbler (three territories in 2006). Good finds in the last decade or so have included Shag, Ring-necked Duck, Scaup, Guillemot, Nightingale (a very difficult species to connect with in Inner London), Black Redstart and Firecrest. For a period Surrey Docks have been undeservedly under-watched but renewed efforts since spring 2008 by one observer have already produced records of Egyptian Goose, Red Kite, Buzzard, Caspian Gull, a handful of Mediterranean Gulls, Kittiwake, Black Tern (a flock of 32), Turnstone, Nightingale, Pied Flycatcher and overwintering Firecrest. A Manx Shearwater picked up in Paddington was successfully released here at Greeland Pier in October 2008.

DMc and (the last little bit by) Richard Bonser.

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