Broadhurst Clarkson 4-draw - my first 'scope, Wood Sands on condom island, Rye Meads 1984.
With unidentified stints seemingly on every patch of mud in the country, I decided it was time to check out the Valley’s wader hot spots. Unfortunately I was 30 years too late. Remember the good old days, when you could pop down to the local sewage works? You crept up the bank and positioned yourself in a bed of nettles, 4-draw scope balanced on your legs, watching the pool of deep brown, bubbling and steaming liquid, with condom-encrusted muddy islands dotted with Green and Common Sandpipers and waiting for a Ruff or two to drop in?
The Lee Valley had a string of such sites, Rye Meads, Broxbourne, Rammey Marsh, Ponders End and Edmonton (Deephams) at least. G E Lodge ‘discovered’ the Lee Valley sewage farms as early as 1900, recording at Edmonton and Ponders End. He found the first nesting Ringed Plovers in the London area in 1901 and was recording Dunlin, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwits and Ruffs, via his shotgun, around that time. Much later, London’s sludgy gems at Perry Oaks and Beddington were ‘discovered’, the former by Lord Hurcomb in 1946 (who once asked to look through the very scope in the picture to view a distant wader).
Rye Meads was the first sewage works that came to my attention, after the appearance of a Solitary Sandpiper in 1967. It was one of those secret places surrounded by high chain-link fences and barbed wire, where birding news only slowly crept out when everything had gone. I still find it difficult to go through the gate of that place. I’d much rather look for a hole in the fence or catch the seat of my trousers as I scramble over a weak part of the defences. Other sites in the valley were located by searching the Ordnance Survey map for the magical word ‘works’, followed by a recce to find a weak spot around the perimeter. Once in, creep up the bank through the ten foot high nettles, peer over the top and hope for sludgy goodness covered in waders. And further afield, who will forget the birding experience of watching at Wisbech when the shit lorry arrived and disgorged. It always seemed to make me feel hungry for some reason. Conveniently, there was usually a fine crop of poo passed pip tomatoes growing right in front of you.
Sadly such places are all but gone, lost to modern techniques. In theory, we could re-create such places if we all made a ‘contribution’.