With a higher ratio of trees to people than in any other European city, Sheffield is a wonderful birdwatching destination
The city of Sheffield is a wonderful destination for some urban birdwatching
SHEFFIELD STEEL: TWO words that in days gone by went together like bird and watching. Sheffield’s history was built on its industrial past, with its steel production playing a huge role. Throughout the 19th Century, sewage and industrial pollution took their devastating toll on the city’s urban landscape. Today, despite steel still being a major industry in Sheffield, the environment has been cleaned up tremendously, resulting in a great recolonisation of birds and other wildlife.
At a casual glance, Sheffield doesn’t look the type of place that would harbour interesting birds. However, an indicator of its promise of good birding is the fact that the city contains more than 250 parks, woodlands and gardens, with an estimated two million trees. Sheffield now has the highest ratio of trees to people in a European city. The rivers that were once barren are now the venue for breeding Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail and even Dipper. The city centre also boasts the obligatory pair of Peregrines, that are usually to be found surveying their kingdom from a lofty perch on St George’s Church, or the nearby BT Tower. They fledged three young this summer. There are several locations within, and on the edge of, the city boundaries that have been beautified and made good for wildlife, having previously been putrid disused colliery pits, devoid of life. Amazingly, despite fantastic work and effort that has gone into naturalising these areas, the threat of development looms. Pit House West at the northern edge of the Rother Valley Country Park is currently earmarked for transformation into a theme park. It is a natural enough looking mix of scrubland and riparian habitats, but is, in fact, a redeveloped mine. If you visit the area during the summer, your ears would be ringing to the jittery vocalisations of Reed Warblers. Indeed, it is probably the best place in the city for this common reed dweller. The occasional Grasshopper Warbler stops to raise its young and Cetti’s Warblers sing, but it is probably the Willow Tits that most local birders come here to find. Our cozy understanding of the plumage differences between Marsh and Willow Tits has recently been thrown into
confusion, with some experts now saying the only surefire way of separating the two is by call only. Here, Marsh Tits are unknown. Over at Orgreave Lakes, a relatively new addition to the local birding map, part of the land has already been given over for a new housing estate development. More than 600 new homes and the resultant increase in dog-walkers and other human activity are starting to have an effect on the birds that use the patch. The lakes themselves comprise a main body of water accompanied by a smaller satellite lake and have only been in existence for a few years. The plantation, mere saplings when the lakes were created, are now maturing, drawing in woodland birds. Orgreave Lakes makes for a perfect local patch. Despite the human disturbance, Lapwings and Sky Larks still manage to find places to breed. And Sky Lark numbers, especially during the spring, are still good. There has even been family of Grey Partridge seen during this summer. Winter is a great time to catch up with waterfowl. Wigeon and Gadwall are a given with Teal, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and a few Goosander present there and on the nearby River Rother. Winter is also the time to brush up on your gull identification, as Caspian Gull is an annual find among the gathered larid throngs. The site has not been without its share of unusual birds. Snow and Lapland Buntings have been brought in by the inclement weather systems in recent years. Great White Egret and Arctic Skua
are on the site list that now holds more than 180 species. Perhaps the most surprising addition to the list was the Leach’s Petrel discovered flapping around the lake in 2010. It was watched gaining height when, out of nowhere, a Sparrowhawk zoomed in. Thwack! The site tick was no more. Bowden Housteads Woods are Sheffield’s oldest Beech woods and have been in existence since the 17th Century. Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers have been reported in the past, but are now an extreme city rarity. A Yellow-browed Warbler was found a few years ago, but the woods are woefully underwatched. The same can be said for Sheffield Botanical Gardens on the edge of the inner city. During summer, tit flocks proliferate, with a supporting cast of Chaffinches, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker. Arctic Redpoll and a Yellow-browed Warbler have turned up in the past, but the garden’s true claim to fame was the 1987 Black-throated Thrush.
KINGFISHER Rivers which were once barren, now hold Kingfisher © mike lane / Alamy GREY WAGTAIL Another bird benefitting from a new, cleaner Sheffield © Don Hooper / Alamy GREY PARTRIDGE A family has been seen recently in the Orgreave area © Andrew Darrington / Alamy WIGEON One of several duck species which can easily be found on the River Rother © Russell F Spencer
High Bradfield in the Sheffield countryside