Flock to Tring in Spring: Tring Reservoirs
PUBLISHED: 09:39 23 April 2016
Now is one of the best times to visit Tring Reservoirs as the spring migration gets in full swing. Keri Jordan explores the watery haven that offers rare birds and much more
As I carefully picked my way through the puddles on the soggy path towards the Wilstone bird hide, I realised I might actually resemble one of the wading birds rooting through the reed beds that I’d come to observe. Less the graceful glide of a grey heron and more the staccato footsteps of a little egret, but then you could say I was blending in with the wildlife and that’s generally the goal for most nature spotters.
April is the start of one of the best times to visit the collection of reservoirs north of Tring, as the spring migration of a diverse range of birdlife is approaching its peak. Owned by the Canal and River Trust and managed as a nature reserve by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, the site attracts thousands of visitors each year who take advantage of the abundant bird watching opportunities, fishing spots and walking trails through picturesque woodland and wetlands that the reserve has to offer.
Constructed in the early 1800s to supply water to the Grand Union Canal, the four reservoirs have played an important role in the region for over 200 years. Due to a lack of local rivers and streams, it became evident that a greater and more accessible water supply was required in order for the canal network to operate effectively as the volume of cargo boat traffic increased.
Wilstone Reservoir was the first to be built in 1802 and is the biggest. It has been enlarged twice and holds around 240 million gallons of water that is rich in minerals, plants and fish, which attract a wide variety of breeding and migratory birds. Birders, many of whom were wandering around with binoculars in hand despite the inclement weather on my visit, have spotted more than 250 different species here, including rarities such as osprey, bittern, water rail, marsh harrier and goosander.
Wilstone is also home to one of the largest heronries in Hertfordshire. However, as I scanned the waterside trees that provide refuge and secure nesting spots for these elegant birds, it was the joyful leap of a rare Chinese water deer disappearing in the distance that captured my attention.
Startop’s End is the second largest reservoir, followed by Marsworth and Tringford. Each one has a slightly different character, with the quiet ambience of Tringford perfect for a meditative stroll and the more accessible banks of Marsworth proving popular with anglers.
The fishing on the reservoirs has been renowned for more than 80 years, yielding record-breaking catches of tench, perch, pike, bream and carp. The one-time British record wels catfish, weighing in at 43lb 8oz, was caught at Wilstone in 1970 – you can see it on display in Tring’s Natural History Museum.
Due to their ecological significance, the reservoirs were designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1987 so they will be conserved and protected for future generations of both wildlife and people.
The area around the reservoirs is rich in canal heritage. Although commercial traffic on the waterways had declined by the 1970s, they are still used extensively for leisure pursuits. In the height of summer, more than four million gallons of water are pumped daily from the reservoirs into the Grand Union to top up water levels as boats move through the locks. Over the past few years, some freight traffic has also returned with the carriage of aggregates by barge and narrowboat.
As well as supporting a diverse range of plants and animals, the wetlands are intrinsic in providing a healthy environment for people too. Exploring the area on foot or by bicycle is easy via a network of footpaths and canal towpaths. While there are steep steps and slopes to navigate in some areas, the footpaths from Startop’s End car park along the canal, and between Startop’s End and Marsworth Reservoirs are relatively flat and suitable for those with limited mobility.
It’s possible to take a short walk around one of the reservoirs in one to two hours, and all four reservoirs can easily be explored in a day. There are a number of pubs and cafes in the vicinity to provide refreshment, as well as plenty of spots for a picnic.
I’ll definitely be back on a balmy summer’s evening to explore the other two public bird hides and the chance to watch the fledgling herons on their first fishing trip, tentatively following the poised footsteps of their parents. Who knows, they might even be able to teach me some moves.