News and Events

This page is for news reports and details of forthcoming events such as the guided walks, bird count days and working parties that occur throughout the year at the Welsh Harp. The page also explains how to view records of recent sightings and report your own observations.

18 MAY 2018

Have your say on the future of West Hendon Playing Fields

Barnet Council is currently consulting on the future of West Hendon Playing Fields, which make up a large proportion of the open space at the Welsh Harp. In particular, the council is seeking views on “the development and creation of a sports hub with associated community facilities”. 

Through an online survey, people who visit the Welsh Harp are being asked for their views on the commercial development of the playing fields. If you enjoy the area for its wildlife, its network of tranquil footpaths and its general peace and quiet, you may wish to oppose any increased focus on sporting activities, which could involve built facilities that will adversely affect the countrified nature of the site. 

Outdoor developments under consideration include artificial turf pitches, multi-use games areas, enhanced children’s play areas, refurbished tennis courts, a skatepark, a BMX track, a crazy golf course, a high ropes course (eg, Go Ape) and an outdoor gym. All of these could lead to increased problems of noise pollution, littering, etc.

Proposed indoor developments include a cafe, a nursery, a soft-play area, an indoor climbing wall and a “multi-use activity space” (exercise classes, martial arts, boxing, gymnastics, etc).

Any of these proposals could have an adverse effect on the wildlife of the playing fields, which includes rare resident bird species such as Little Owl, occasional passage migrants such as Wheatear and uncommon summer visitors such as Lesser Whitethroat.  

Please make your views known now. The deadline for completing the questionnaire is 3rd June 2018.

16 MAY 2018

Bat walk, 25th May

A bat walk around Brent Reservoir has been planned for the evening of Friday 25th May, from 8.30pm to 10pm, weather permitting.

The event has been organised by the London Wildlife Trust in co-operation with the Welsh Harp Conservation Group and the Friends of the Welsh Harp. The walk will start from Woodfield Park Playing Fields, where parking is available (see map on the About/Visiting page). 

The event is free, but intending participants are asked to register in advance with Catherine Cullen (ccullen@wildlondon.org.uk). Participants are advised to wear sturdy shoes and carry a small hand torch. (See http://www.wildlondon.org.uk/events/2018/05/03/bat-walk-welsh-harp-reservoir.)

Bat calls are largely undetectable to the human ear and so bat detectors will be used. These convert the bats’ echolocation signals from ultrasound to audible frequencies. A call’s frequency range and repetition rate allows a trained ear to recognise the individual species. 

The 25th May event is in addition to the annual WHCG bat walk, which this year is scheduled to take place on Thursday 23rd August. Bats detected on these walks in recent years include Daubenton’s Bat, Common Noctule, Leisler’s Bat, Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle and Nathusius’ Pipistrelle. And in 2007 a Serotine Bat was recorded at the reservoir for the first time. 

28 APRIL 2018

Spring Bird Count Day produces large flock of godwit

*DSCN8408 Blkwit
Some of the 53 Black-tailed Godwit seen early on the spring bird count 

Perhaps because of the cold, wet weather, the Spring Bird Count on 28th April 2018 failed to produce a record-breaking total number of species but it certainly had its moments. 

The best find, at sunrise, was a flock of 53 Black-tailed Godwit discovered by Andrew Self, who had been ranging the site since before dawn. It was the largest flock ever seen at Brent Reservoir, eclipsing the previous record of 36 seen on 29th April 1985. 

Three other early-birders also managed to see the godwits. But the flock took to the air at  06:41 when they were disturbed by several Mute Swan moving in among them. After  circling the reservoir a couple of times, the Blackwits flew off west.

*DSCN8420 YWag
Three of the four Yellow Wagtail encountered on Bird Count Day

Other interesting birds included a White Wagtail that settled briefly on one of the rafts and a group of four Yellow Wagtail. Unusually for this passage migrant, the Yellow Wagtail lingered for several hours on the mud and rafts and were seen by a number of Brent Birders. 

Another migrant that is nowadays rare locally is Cuckoo. At noon one flew across the reservoir in front of the main hide but was only seen by a couple of birders, even though about 10 people were in the hide at the time. (During the 2017 Spring Bird Count a male cuckoo spent much of the day at the site and was seen and heard by many visitors.) 

Throughout the day, many Swallow — more than 100 — were seen hawking over the reservoir, accompanied by smaller numbers of House Martin and Sand Martin. Some 80 Swift also passed through the site. 

Apart from the godwits, waders seen during the day included two or three each of Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper and Common Snipe. Larids included five late Black-headed Gull and six early Common Tern.

Among the many warblers heard singing were early Garden Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat.

In all, 71 species were recorded by mid-afternoon.

(Early the next morning, Andrew Self found three species we had looked for on Bird Count Day but had  failed to record — Greylag, Wheatear and Sedge Warbler.)

22 MARCH 2018

Volunteer painters needed

The boardwalk up to the main hide at Brent Reservoir was renovated a few weeks ago by Cat Cullen and colleagues from the London Wildlife Trust. And now volunteers are needed to help preserve it for the future.

On Saturday morning (24 March 2018), from 10.30am to about 2pm, Brent Birders and other volunteers are invited to help with painting and waterproofing the ramp. Gloves and other essential materials will be provided, but volunteers should wear old clothes and wellies because of the risk of splashes. Meet by the builders’ lot next to the Cool Oak Lane bridge.

For more details contact Cat on 07734 599727 or 020 7261 0447 or at ccullen@wildlondon.org,uk.

22 MARCH 2018

Creating a vision for the Welsh Harp

Local environmental activist Daniella Litterpicker (Daniella Levene) is planning a meeting for everyone who cares about the Welsh Harp “to brainstorm, create a vision and start to formulate an action plan”.

The meeting will be open to anyone with ideas — volunteers, local organisations and other stakeholders. Daniella has given a choice of dates for a meeting at https://doodle.com/poll/ag3urqpwyw6micu2. The selected venue will depend on numbers but it will be in the vicinity of the Harp.

22 MARCH 2018

Weekend clean-up

This Sunday (25 March 2018) volunteers will be attempting to clean up the Neasden Recreation Ground side of the Welsh Harp, from 11am. The car park off Aboyne Road will be open, and anyone who needs to borrow wellies should contact Daniella Litterpicker (northwestlondoncleanup@hotmail.com).

13 MARCH 2018

Brent Reservoir hide used for filming

A film-maker has provided the WHCG with a little useful income by renting the Main Hide on 8 March 2018 to film a short comedy movie — although in the event, all the filming actually took place in and around the Heron Hide instead.

The film crew and cast consisted of the director, a cameraman, a sound engineer and two actors. With all their equipment — camera, lighting, a large reflector, microphone, video monitor, tripods, etc — it was a tight squeeze in the smaller hide.

DSCN8202
(left to right) actor, actress, cameraman, sound engineer

The film’s plot concern a wildlife photographer who is trying to snap a rare “Lesser Spotted African Woodpecker” but is interrupted by a boorish interloper — a local resident who is not a birder but occasionally makes use of the hide to escape his wife and to listen to his portable radio, eat smelly sandwiches and drink lager. The photographer becomes so frustrated by his activities and his annoying attempts at conversation that she eventually clocks him over the head with her camera. The End.

Although the film will only be about five minutes long, the filming session took six hours.

The director has promised that once the film has been edited he will supply a copy for posting on this website.

11 MARCH 2018

A rare Spoonbill drops in for the afternoon 

Spoonbill
Spoonbill, Brent Reservoir, 11 March 2018 (© Andrew Self 2018)

On 11th March, Brent Reservoir had a visit from a Spoonbill — a vagrant waterbird classified locally as “very rare”.

The bird had first been spotted flying up the Thames soon after dawn. It then spent the morning at the London Wetland Centre, but at noon was seen flying off in the direction of Brent Reservoir.

The bird was first reported at Brent Reservoir at 12:43, after which it loitered for much of the afternoon in East Marsh. It was sometimes out of sight from the hides but visible distantly from the north bank viewing platform. The bird later roosted in North Marsh for a while before returning to East Marsh. It eventually flew off in a south-westerly direction shortly before sunset. A Spoonbill seen at Rainham Marshes on the following day may well have been the same bird,

This latest Brent Reservoir Spoonbill was the first since 16th May 2009, when an adult bird was found roosting near the Heron Hide at 09:00 and then spent some time feeding between the two WHCG hides before flying off at 14.35.

There are only three earlier records of Spoonbill at Brent Reservoir. The first record relates to two birds shot in 1865. No Spoonbill were then recorded until late in the 20th century, when single birds were reported flying through the site in 1993 and 1997. This year’s bird — like its 2009 predecessor — did at least manage to hang around long enough for a few birders and twitchers to catch up with it.

19 FEBRUARY 2018

Improving the muddy path between the hides

Following the London Wildlife Trust’s recent sterling work in renewing the rotting approach ramp at Brent Reservoir’s Main Hide, the WHCG decided to use the discarded planks, rails and decking boards to improve the approach to its smaller Heron Hide, which is about 250m beyond the Main Hide.

Led by WHCG chairman Roy Beddard, a small working group set out on Saturday 18th February to lay down the still usable planks on a particularly muddy corner — which after this winter’s weather is probably gunkier than it has ever been. Carrying or dragging a couple of boards each, the team trudged back and forth along the slippery route to the target area, where they laid the planks on the mud to give visitors a more solid approach to the Heron Hide.

19 FEBRUARY 2018

An alluring look at trees in winter 

A small group of enthusiasts, aged from 7-ish to 70-ish, turned up at the Welsh Harp on Sunday 18th February 2018 for a free guided walk exploring the wide variety of trees around the site. The walk was led by Edwin Malins of the London Wildlife Trust.

DSCN8092
A Welsh Harp lime tree with a mass of stem and root sprouts

As the group walked round the site, Edwin demonstrated ways of identifying deciduous trees when they are leafless in winter. Often this can be done by inspecting the size, shape, colour and position of the buds that are beginning to form. Studying features of the bark can also help in identification, as can examination of the catkins dangling from species such as hazel and alder.

2018.02.18 Kestrel
Kestrel, “Shrike Field”, 19 Feb 2018 (© Andrew Haynes 2018)

Edwin also drew attention to two lime trees that are each surrounded by a proliferation of fine stem sprouts (epicormic growth), which grow up from around the base of the trunk or from shallow lateral roots. (You can look out for these two specimens close to the main footpath along the reservoir’s north bank.)  For no obvious reason, other limes seen during the walk had the bare trunks of a “normal” tree.

Walking back towards our start point, the group had superb views of a Kestrel perched in a tree on the edge of the “Shrike Field”.

9 FEBRUARY 2018

Spring Bird Count — 28th April 2018 

Saturday April 28th is this year’s date for the annual dawn-to-dusk Spring Bird Count organised by the the Welsh Harp Conservation Group.

The aim of the day is to find as many species of bird as possible. These will include year-round resident species plus lingering winter visitors, early summer visitors and assorted passage migrants. In 2017, we found a total of 75 species — a fairly typical number. The record is 81 species recorded in 2011.

All birders are welcome to take part in the day-long event.  The morning is usually the best time to visit — the earlier the better.

Bird count days can be a great learning experience for new birders. Regular Brent Birders will point out interesting birds from the hide or take you with them on walks to other good birding spots around the reservoir.

The main hide will be open for most of the day. It acts as an information centre, where a running list of species is chalked up. Later in the day there will also be a smaller list of species that we would expect to see but have still not found, so that birders can go out and look for these birds in appropriate haunts.

10 MAY 2017

Only one key now needed for all hide locks

A new Chubb lock has now been fitted in the lower lock position on the door of the Main Hide at Brent Reservoir. This takes the same key as the upper lock and the two Heron Hide locks. The old steel Legge keys are now redundant.

Anyone requiring the new key should contact Roy Beddard on 020 8447 1810.

Birders are encouraged to leave their redundant keys in the main hide on their next visit (along with any other old keys they may want to get rid of). The keys will be collected and, if possible, sold to a scrap metal merchant to raise a little money for the WHCG. If they cannot be sold they will be taken to a recycling centre.

29 APRIL 2017

Spring Bird Count nets 75 species

The dawn-to-dusk Spring Bird Count held on 29 April 2017 produced a total of 75 species — four more than in 2016 but six short of 2011’s record of 81 species.

The best bird was the first Cuckoo at Brent Reservoir for seven years. It was a male bird that spent most of the day in East Marsh, calling frequently and often perched within view of one or both hides.

Other sightings of note during the day included 10 Common Tern, 3 Lapwing, 3 Common Sandpiper, 2 Little Ringed Plover, 1 Common Buzzard, 10 Swift, 2 Sand Martin, 1 Swallow, 2 Wheatear, 1 Garden Warbler, 2 Lesser Whitethroat, 3 Cetti’s Warbler and a Willow Warbler.

22 APRIL 2017

New edition of Brent Reservoir facts and figures

A new third edition of Birds of Brent Reservoir: Facts & Figures is now available. It can be viewed at, or downloaded from, the Publications page of this website. The 30-page PDF document, prepared by Andrew Self, is correct up to March 31st 2017.

Among the updates is the addition of a new species for the reservoir, Ring-necked Duck, after a drake of this North American species was seen at the reservoir from March 11th to 20th, bringing the all-time total number of species up to 252. A photograph of the bird has been added to the front page of the report.

17 MARCH  2017

Welsh Harp Report 2016 now available

The Welsh Harp Conservation Group’s annual report for 2016 is now available. It can be viewed at, or downloaded from, the Publications page of this website.

The 38-page PDF document includes a chairman’s report by Roy Beddard, a month-by-month review of the year’s birding highlights and a systematic account of the 128 bird species encountered at Brent Reservoir during the year (illustrated photographs,  tables and bar charts.

Also included are lists of the year’s first and last dates for regular migrants, an account of the autumn visible migration observations and an article on other wildlife at the Welsh Harp in 2016.

Recent sightings

To learn about interesting birds seen recently at Brent Reservoir, visit the Latest News page on the London Bird Club wiki, where Brent Birders record their sightings. The page covers the current calendar month, with links to previous monthly reports dating back to 2002.

All birders are welcome to add their own sightings, but note that the page is intended for reports of wide interest, not for lists of common species (for which another page is available). If you are new to the site, please first visit the page that gives details of the standard format for entries.

Sightings suitable for the Latest News page include not just rarer species but also commoner birds seen in unexpected places, in unusual numbers or behaving in an abnormal manner; also worth reporting are birds with new broods of young (especially if particularly early or late in the season), migrant birds arriving early or lingering late, and birds with readable leg-rings.

If you visit the Main Hide, please also add an entry to the log book kept there.

Reporting leg-ring sightings — When young birds are ringed in the nest or adults are trapped and ringed, they are fitted with a unique aluminium leg-ring that can provide information only if the bird is retrapped or is found injured or dead. But some ringing stations also fit coloured plastic leg-rings designed to allow identification without recapture. Larger birds may be fitted with a coloured plastic leg-ring bearing two or three letters and/or numbers. Anyone who sees a bird with such a ring should note the alphanumeric code (if possible), the colour of the ring, the colour of the lettering and which leg the ring is on. Even if the letters and/or numbers cannot be read, the other information may identify where the bird was ringed. Some smaller birds may be fitted with several coloured leg-rings to aid identification in the field. In such a case, you should note the sequence of colours (top to bottom) on each leg. As well as recording such sightings as above, please also report them on the European Colour-ring Birding website.

Forthcoming Events

The following information about forthcoming events is provisional, since events may occasionally have to be cancelled or rescheduled. Any changes will be highlighted here as early as possible. General information about guided walks, bird count days and working parties is set out elsewhere on this page.

Sat 28 Apr 2018, all day —  Spring Bird Count Day
Thu 23 Aug 2018, 8.30pm — Bat Walk
Sat 1 Sep 2018, all day — Autumn Bird Count Day

Guided walks

Throughout the year, visitors to Brent Reservoir can avail themselves of expert knowledge of the area and its wildlife by joining guided walks. This is a free service designed to enrich people’s appreciation of a wonderful local asset. There is no need to book in advance — just turn up on the day.

Bird walks

Bird walks take place monthly on Sunday mornings, starting at 10am and lasting about two hours. All walks start from Cool Oak Lane bridge. Beginners and accompanied children are welcome.

The walks are normally led by Roy Beddard (WHCG) and John Colmans (London Wildlife Trust) and are run in conjunction with the RSPB North West London Group (leader, Bob Husband). Details of forthcoming walks are given above and can also be found in the RSPB group’s current programme. Further information can be obtained from Roy Beddard on 020 8447 1810 or John Colmans on 020 8446 4029.

The walks are not exclusively devoted to birds. Attention is also paid to other creatures — particularly butterflies and dragonflies — and to unusual plants.

Anyone joining a walk should dress sensibly. Parts of the site can be bleak in winter, and warm clothes, a rainproof coat or jacket and waterproof boots are advisable. If the weather has been wet, some footpaths can be muddy at any time of year. Bring binoculars if you have them, but there should be plenty to see without them.

Bat walks

The WHCG, again in conjunction with the local branch of the RSPB, organises an annual public bat walk, usually on a Wednesday evening towards the end of August. Electronic bat detectors are used to identify the bat species encountered. Past walks have detected up to six species, but the number of species and the total number of bats can vary widely depending on the weather conditions.

Bird count days

Twice a year, during the spring and autumn migration periods, the WCHG organises a dawn-to-dusk bird count, during which birders try to spot as many different species as possible. The total number of species recorded is usually around 70.

The spring bird count is normally on the last Saturday of April or the first Saturday of May; the autumn count is usually on the last Saturday in August or the first Saturday in September. The exact dates are given on this page and posted in the main hide.

On bird count days the main hide is normally open for most of the day, manned by regular Brent Birders. It acts as an information centre, where a running list of species is chalked up. Later in the day there will also be a smaller list of expected species that have still not been found, so that birders can go out and look for these birds in appropriate haunts.

If you are a new birder, a bird count day can be a great learning experience. The regular Brent Birders will point out interesting birds from the hide or take you with them on walks to other good birding spots around the reservoir. The morning is usually the best time to visit — the earlier the better.

(An informal bird count also takes place each year on 1 January, when birders who keep annual species lists try to get their new year tally off to a good start. Typically about 50 species are recorded.)

Working parties

Outside the nesting season, the WHCG organises working parties to carry out various tasks that help preserve the quality of the environment at Brent Reservoir. These maintenance jobs including cutting reeds, removing invasive plant species, clearing overgrown paths and removing saplings from the gorse patch. (In the past, one annual task has been to tidy up the rafts, but the silting up of this part of the reservoir now make that job too difficult.)

Anyone prepared to become involved in these tasks is asked to send their email address and telephone number to Roy Beddard (roy.beddard [AT] btinternet.com) so that they can be notified about forthcoming working party dates.

In parallel with the WHCG working parties, several litter-clearing sessions are held each year, organised by Daniella Levene (“Daniella Litterpicker”). Daniella would also welcome more participants (email northwestlondoncleanup [AT] hotmail.com; tel 07763 150251).

© Welsh Harp Conservation Group 2018
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