The Upper Nene Valley Gravel Pits Special Protected Area
The Nene Valley is a brilliant place to enjoy the great outdoors and is home to a wide variety of wildlife. But did you know that the Nene Valley landscape provides a particularly important habitat for a variety of internationally protected bird species?
The Upper Nene Valley features a series of lakes and wetland grasslands, created by former gravel extraction. The gravel 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 waterbirds.
Due to these valuable wetland conditions, the Upper Nene Valley Gravel Pits, is designated a Special Protection Area (SPA). The SPA stretches along the River Nene floodplain at Clifford Hill near Northampton and downstream to Thorpe Waterville, north of Thrapston. A map can be viewed here.
More detail about the Upper Nene Valley SPA designation is available here.
Why is the SPA is essential for wildlife?
From October to March, the Upper Nene Valley gravel pit SPA attracts over 20,000 waterbirds, including vital populations of Golden Plover, Gadwell and Bittern. With plenty of muddy shorelines and grassland surrounding the water, the Nene Valley provides a network of habitats ideal for visiting birds, migrating from places like Iceland, Scandinavia, and Russia. The waterways in the valley support a huge range of aquatic plants, fish, worms, and insects, all great for hungry birds.
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.
Download the SPA Top Trumps game!
What potential impacts people can have on birds and other wildlife?
The SPA lakes are an important area for humans too, but unfortunately, our activity can unintentionally cause disturbance that affects the regular feeding and breeding patterns of animals. When birds are disturbed they use up valuable energy stores they need to survive the winter. If disturbed, they might not return to an otherwise suitable area, or be able to eat enough to make it through the season. 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 away from paths, drones, fishing, and other water sports. It can affect birds feeding on the shoreline and surrounding grassland, as well as those on the waterways.
What can we do to help prevent disturbance?
By working together, we can provide an environment that offers the vital space birds and wildlife need to thrive, whilst maintaining a valuable place for people to enjoy and benefit from nature. Here are some 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 has been formed to create the SPA mitigation group, this includes representation from local councils, Natural England, Wildlife Trust (BCN) River Nene Regional Park and other community organisations.