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Leicestershire & Rutland Ornithological Society
The Soar Valley Gravel Pits

Watermead Country Park South © Jim Graham

OS Landranger 129 & 140

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A chain of disused flooded gravel workings along the River Soar north of Leicester. The complex can be roughly divided into four sections, from north to south: The LRWT's Cossington Meadows reserve; Cossington South/Wanlip North Lakes; Watermead Country Park North (including the Birstall Nature Reserve section), and Watermead Country Park South, which is run by the City Council. The Cossington South/Wanlip North section is mostly private.

Access to the Watermead Country Park North section is off Fillingate: follow signs for 'Watermead Country Park North' from the A46 to reach the car park (£1.50 fee) at SK 606 106. This is the start of the County Council's 'Watermead Country Park', and footpaths cover the whole area. From here it is possible to walk south to Birstall, or alternatively park in the car park at the end of Meadow Lane (SK 602 096). Again, there are well-marked footpaths covering the whole area, and two hides.

  Wanlip Meadows © Andy Mackay

The southernmost section (Watermead Country Park South on the map) is owned by Leicester City Council. Park in the free car park off Alderton Close (SK 603 086, signposted from the A607 just before the pub) and follow the footpaths around the lakes.


Being mostly wetland habitat, the two main groups of interest are obviously wildfowl and waders. Good numbers of all the common ducks winter, and the Birstall Nature Reserve pits and the Waterski Pit are particularly attractive to Goosanders, and occasionally Smew. Garganey are almost annual. A recent addition to the habitat is the 'Scrape' on Wanlip Meadows, a large shallow pool on the west side of the river at SK 603 107. This has proved attractive to waders over the past year, more so in spring. Green and Common Sandpipers are regular, as are Redshank, Ringed and Little Ringed Plover, with occasional visits by less common species such as Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Jack Snipe, Wood Sandpiper, Sanderling and Little Stint. The flooded area on the west side of the river at Birstall (SK 597 085) also attracts waders, but quickly becomes overgrown in the summer. Water Rails and Kingfishers may be seen in any areas of suitable habitat, the Crake Pool being particularly favoured.

Birstall Nature Reserve © Andy Mackay

The Crake Pool © Andy Mackay

There are two large heronries in the area, at Birstall and Wanlip. Gulls may be seen anywhere in the valley, but do not usually roost. Iceland, Mediterranean and Yellow-legged Gulls have both been recorded. Common Terns nest on islands and artificial rafts on many pits, the largest colony being at Watermead CP South. Black Terns occasionally turn up on spring passage.

The reedy areas around the pits hold good numbers of Reed and Sedge Warblers, and migrant passerines may turn up anywhere. Stonechats are regular on the Thurmaston 'Floodplain' (SK 601 091) and are occasionally found elsewhere.

Many local rarities have been recorded in the Soar Valley, but the area is still relatively underwatched. Recent highlights have included: White-winged Black Tern,

Watermead Country Park South © Andy Mackay

two Marsh Warblers, Cetti's Warbler, Spotted Crake, Pectoral Sandpiper, Great Northern Diver, Great White Egret, Little Egret, Brent Goose, Avocets, all three scarce grebes, Hen Harrier, Water Pipit, Snow Bunting, Red-crested Pochard, Scaup and Velvet Scoter.

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