Below is summary of good birding areas within the Western Section of the Cotswold Water Park, including an appropriate starting / parking area.
The western section is the area where gravel was first extracted over 30 years ago and contains the most developed habitats. This section comprises the land to the west of the A419.
Cleveland Lakes Reserve:
Cleveland Lakes Reserve is a Cotswold Water Park Trust-owned reserve, comprising 112ha of wetland habitats, ranging from mature and new reedbeds, willow scrub, large areas of open water and scrapes. The site is still under construction so please bear with us as we complete the habitat creation and access works.
The most complex and one of the longest routes in the Western Section of CWP is probably the walk around Waterhay and Cleveland Lakes area. The site is one of the most important for nature conservation in the CWP (and its not even finished yet!), supporting a very high number of winter waterbirds and significant populations of breeding waterbirds. The permanent shallow water scrapes are attracting high numbers of waterbirds, in particular, waders on pasage. The scrapes currently do not have public access and must be viewed from Twitchers Gate or from the southern shoreline of Lake 68a/68b. Please bear with us whilst we complete the habitat creation works. The site regularly supports wintering Bittern, passage Osprey and Marsh Harrier. During the winter Peregrine Falcon may be seen regularly hunting, often flushing the several hundred Lapwing and Golden Plover roosting on the scrapes. The site also supports a large Heronry.
Otter are frequent on the site, whilst the reedbeds support water shrew and Harvest Mouse. Over 10 species of bat may be found here, including the rare Lesser Horseshoe Bat.
There are bird hides overlooking Lake 68c, Lake 74 and the new reedbed. A new 1.5 mile permissive footpath was opened along the southern perimeter of the site which offers excellent views of a rnage of wildlife.
Best approached from Waterhay car park (OS REF SU 060 933) it is possible to walk a circular route taking in the edges of hedgerows, farmland, open water, reed beds and scrub. You will get a wide variety of farmland, hedgerow, wetland and water birds on this route; including woodpeckers, little owl and cuckoo.
Walk out of the back of the car park and you can take the anti-clockwise route by turning right at the second junction. Or continue straight on and access is available to Cleveland Lakes through the gateway at the end of the pathway. (N.B: At the first junction it is worth a slight detour left along the Thames Path to view Lakes 82 and 83 which frequently support whimbrel and other migrants amongst the Curlew)
At the far end of Cleveland Lakes there are 2 hides overlooking the far end of Lake 74 and a small part of Cleveland Scrapes (SU 072 949) . There is a hide overlooking the Waterhay reed bed at Lake 68c but as this area is drying out at present sightings here are likely to be limited.
‘Twitchers Gate’ (Lake 74) (SU 065 946) will often feature as a location within this website. This is a viewing point along the road between Fridays Ham Lane and Cerney Wick. Originally a gate this is now a fence with a small pull in for a couple of cars.
Overlooking Lake 74 and some small part of the scrape area, at certain times of the year this does provide some useful sightings of waterfowl, gulls, migrating terns, migrating passerines such as Yellow Wagtail and other species. Throughout the winter, large numbers of wintering waterbirds may be seen and species such as Red-breasted Merganser and Red-Necked Grebe have been seen in the past.
Shorncote Reedbed (Lakes 84/85a/85b) is situated to the north western corner of the water park and consists of wet meadow, small lakes and working quarries (access and views restricted at working quarries) with 2 hides overlooking the larger lakes. This was the first location in the CWP to be restored specifically and only for nature conservation and was delivered as part of a project between Hills Quarry Products, Thameswater and the CWP Society (now CWP Trust).
This area holds a number of breeding wetland favourites including water rail and breeding warblers. The site usually supports more unusual breeding species such as Gadwall and Pochard and Teal have bred here in the past. It has attracted a number of migrant and winter rarities including short eared owl, glossy ibis, great grey shrike and various waders. This is a regular area for roosting starlings and any visit can unearth something of value. This site is under-watched.
The adjacent active quarries also attract breeding waders such as Little Ringed Plover, Lapwing and sometimes Redshank, whilst passage waders are common here and include Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Ringed plover, Greenshank etc. During the winter months, the quarry attracts large flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover. An excellent and well maintained footpath diversion is in operation across this site, offering excellent views for birding and from a safe distance from more sensitive nesting birds such as Little Ringed Plover.
Park in South Cerney at the Upper-up sports field car park (SU 043 970) and walk along the gravel track through the sports field, across the busy main road and into the wet meadows towards Shorncote. The hides are reached in about 1/2 mile.
The Thames-Severn Canal (Cotswold Canal) runs through much of the CWP, from Siddington in the west, through South Cerney, Cerney Wick, Cricklade, Eysey Manor and Kempsford before joining the River Thames at Inglesham Lock, Lechlade. The canal is in varying stages of restoration, with the section from South Cerney to Cerney Wick more advanced than other stages in the CWP. The towpath is worth exploring where it is accessable and part of a public right of way (Some sections cross private land with no right of access at present).
A good place to start is the Thames-Severn Canal adjacent to Lake 6.
Starting at the Gateway Centre, Lake 6 (SU 073 971) the disused canal offers interesting walks and habitats in either direction. The Gateway Centre is located at the eastern end of the Spine Road just off the A419 junction.
Walking north along the canal towpath towards South Cerney or south towards Cerney Wick. A variety of habitat is seen including reedbed, farmland and small areas of woodland. Good for farmland and wetland birds including woodpeckers. This walk can be extended by returning from South Cerney along the disused railway line or from Cerney Wick along the various footpaths.
This corridor is excellent for breeding songbirds, especially warblers, Bullfinch, Treecreeper etc, and during the winter months supports large flocks of winter thrushes and roving mixed flocks of tits, Goldcrest, Treecreeper, Chiffchaff and Blackcap. Reed Bunting are frequent and the adjacent lakes support an abundnace of waterbirds. Bitterns have been flushed from reeds along the Canal in the past, so you never know what you might see!
During the summer months, the wetter parts of the canal support an abundance of dragonflies and damselflies, whilst at dusk the air is alive with foraging bats. Lesser Horseshoe Bats may be heard feeding here if you’re lucky but the most abundant are the Soprano Pipistrelle bats.
There is a Disused Railway Line that goes right through the centre of this section of the Water Park from Cricklade to South Cerney. This is leased to the CWPT from Gloucestershire County Council and is managed as a nature reserve and for public access. This is a Sustrans cycle track, bridleway and footpath and is a good flat walk. It is riased above original ground level so is one of the few places that doesn’t suffer heavy flooding during the winter!
From this walk it is possible to turn off at various points and extend or reduce the area covered and to link into varying lakes along the route, including the 2 hides at Cleveland Lakes.
This walk can be started from Cricklade (parking near the Leisure Centre) or from the Spine Road, parking at Railway bridge Car Park, near South Cerney (SU 063 962).
Comprising a dryer walk than the Thames-Severn Canal, the Disused Railway Line offers more wooded habitat than is seen elsewhere in the CWP, supporting species such as Treecreeper, Marsh Tit etc. Roving tit flocks and winter thrushes are abundant during the winter.
Sections of the railway line also support good numbers of Glow Worms. Worth looking out for after dark, please be careful you don’t damage or disturb them.
Lakeside Car Park (CWP Lake 12) (SU 062 968)
This small car park and viewing area on the south shore of Lake 12 offers good views of the lake; although unlikely to attract waders and rarities, it is a good location to observe the gull roost and often produces Mediterranean Gulls.
CWP Lake 16 (SU 057 969)
This is a small viewing area overlooking this private lake (which is suffering development by holiday home developers); however, the lake is large and in the past has attracted large flocks of hirundines and terns on passage, and during the winter, vast numbers of gulls roost here (mainly Black-headed gulls but Lesser Black-backed, Herring and Common Gulls too). Its unpredictable but worthy of a look.
The viewing area is by a gateway; don’t block the gateway as anglers frequently use it.
Neighbridge Car Park (SU 018 946) at the western end of Spine Road West is a good starting point for a number of birding areas.
Walking east along the Spine Road cycle track, and following the Thames National Trail, follow the River Thames past the Lower Mill Estate you will find Lake 44, a good and regular wintering location for Red Crested Pochard and Goosander. Further along Water Rail may winter in the River Thames here, whilst water vole may be seen if you’re quiet. Lake 57 holds large numbers of waterbirds throughout the year but is often most memorable for migrating hobbies in spring when flocks peak at around 30 birds. Its unpredictable and may take several visits! After Lake 57, explore Lake 41 and the vast numbers of waterbirds usually present here during the winter months. This is a good area of wintering flock sof Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and Goldcrest. From here you can go at least 3 ways:
1. Bear right (south) at Lake 41 and walk back past Pike Corner Meadow SSSI and Swill Meadow to Lake 58. At dusk its worth looking out of the European Beavers introduced to the lake a few years ago and marvelling at the woodland enhancements they have undertaken! Further on you reach Swillbrook Lakesand back towards Neigh Bridge. This old reserve is being enhanced to support nightingales which peaked at 15 singing males a few years ago, but now the over-mature scrub supports only 2 singing males. Works contributing to the management plan for this site, written by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, will hopefully encourage Nightingales to return in numbers again. Nightingales may be heard at several locations around the CWP.
2. Continue downstream along the River Thames and you will pass a number of lakes on the left where access is available on permissive footpaths. The lakes between this location and the Spine Road (in particular Lakes 29 and 30) do tend to hold an important population of wintering smew and other waterfowl each year. Lake 29 often supports large flocks of Pochard, Red-crested Pochard whilst species such as Greater Scaup and Red-breasted Merganser have turned up here in recent years. It is also possible to visit these lakes from the Spine Road using the footpaths shown on the Access maps.
3. It is also possible to stay on the River Thames path itself and walk towards Ashton Keynes. This does give a good variety of breeding warblers and other small birds in spring and summer.
Cokes Pit Local Nature Reserve (SU 027 952) is another Cotswold Water Park Trust nature reserve; it is a Local Nature Reserve (LNR). The reserve comprises a mature lake with a hide and a perimeter footpath. A visit to this site is always worthwhile throughout the year. During Spring and Summer it supports one of Gloucestershire’s largest Black-headed Gull breeding colnies, nesting on the islands within the lake. A range of waterbird breed and winter here, including Red-crested Pochard, Tufted Duck and Great Crested Grebes. This is also a superb reserve for a range of dragonfly species (particularly the southern shoreline) and bats (check out the eastern shoreline after dark).
Park within Keynes Country Park (payment required) and cross Spratsgate Lane to enter the reserve. Note that the lanes nearby have double yellow lines!
Lower Moor Farm, Clattinger Farm SSSI and Sandpool Farm Reserves (SU 007 938) is a Reserve area owned by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. Car parking is available at Lower Moor Farm (adjacent to the Education Centre) and there are way marked paths throughout these Reserves.
The site comprises 4 lakes of which one is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a large area of floodplain meadow, much of which is also a SSSI. This reserve is probably best known for its flora with orchids and snakeshead fritillary a speciality.
A good range of waterbirds may be seen on the lakes, whilst the surrounding hedgerows support a variety of nesting passerines. This site often produces Redstart during autumn migration.