The Upper Nene Valley Gravel Pits Special Protected Area
The Nene Valley is a brilliant place to enjoy the great outdoors, but it’s also vital for wildlife and the thousands of protected birds that spend their winters here. Because of this, specific gravel pits in the valley have been designated a Special Protected Area (SPA). The SPA stretches along the River Nene floodplain from Clifford Hill near Northampton downstream to Thorpe Waterville, north of Thrapston. A map can be viewed here.
The pits are formed of extensive shallow and deep open waters, alongside other features such as sparsely-vegetated islands, gravel bars and other “bird-friendly” habitats. This variety provides valuable resting and feeding conditions for wintering water birds.
More information on why the SPA has been designated is available here.
Why the SPA is essential for local wildlife
With plenty of muddy shorelines and grassland surrounding the water, the Nene Valley provides a network of habitats ideal for visiting birds. The waterways in the valley support a huge range of aquatic plants, fish, worms and insects, all great for hungry birds.
From October to March, the SPA attracts over 20,000 waterbirds, including vital populations of Golden Plover, Gadwell and Bittern and migrating birds can travel from places like Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia.
Of the birds that visit, many are facing worldwide decline and these globally-threatened species thrive along the Nene Valley.
This habitat also means there is a huge range of other wildlife for visitors to see year round – look out for breeding waders in the spring, bats and dragonflies in the summer and otters in the early mornings.
Rare birds you can expect to see along the Nene Valley include Great-Crested Grebes, Shovelers and Pochards.
These rare species are often seen alongside the more common Mallards, Mute Swans and other birds found in the UK.
What are the potential impact people can have on the wildlife
The SPA lakes are an important area for humans too, but unfortunately their activity can (unintentionally) disturb birds, affecting their feeding and breeding patterns. Once the birds have been disturbed, they might not return to an otherwise suitable area, or be able to eat enough to survive. In winter, the shorter daylight hours make feeding time more precious.
Frequent disturbance is often more disruptive than one-off noticeable events. Typical frequent disturbance includes dogs off leads, cycling and walking off paths, drones, fishing and water sports. It can affect birds feeding on the shoreline and surrounding grassland, as well as those on the waterways.
What are the benefits to people using alternative routes on the wildlife
It’s vital that birds have a space to thrive, but that humans can also enjoy the Nene Valley and simple ways you can help prevent disturbance include:
- Staying on existing pathways and viewing areas
- Watch for birds resting or feeding and move away if birds become alert or stop feeding
- Cycle on the specially designed Greenway route
- Keep dogs on a lead and exercise them away from birds
- Fish in the designated areas
- Clean up after your dog
To help further limit disturbance and ensure harmony, a partnership of local conservation bodies and council has been formed including East Northamptonshire Council, Wellingborough Council, Wildlife Trust BCN, Natural England, Northamptonshire County Council.