The Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust nature reserve at Blashford Lakes just north of Ringwood takes in a number of former gravel pits subsequently acquired as reservoirs. Established in 1996 on a small area owned by Wessex Water, in 2006 the site was enlarged greatly with the inclusion of areas owned by Bournemouth Water and now includes four main lakes along with areas of woodland and a small river.
Most visits start at the main car park Tern Hide, which looks north up Ibsley Water, Hampshire’s largest freshwater body. In winter it attracts a range of wildfowl, including 20 or so Goldeneye and over 100 Goosander, which roost here. This is also the best lake for passage waders and terns with Arctic and Black Terns regular. Its position just east of the River Avon, a north-south flyway, means that a wide range of species have dropped in and this is undoubtedly the part of the reserve most likely to turn up unexpected species.
Ibsley Water is well known as a gull roost in the winter, with 10,000 or more spending the night. The relatively easy viewing from the Tern Hide has enabled the finding of a good range of species. The majority are Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gull, but searching the gull roost for other species offers one of the best opportunities for rarity finding for the patient and suitably skilled. Yellow-legged Gull are regular and recent winters have had Caspian and Ring-billed Gulls. Rarer still have been the discoveries of Franklin’s, Bonaparte’s and Thayer’s Gulls.
Ibsley Water can also be viewed from the south-east corner at Goosander Hide, where the Goosander roost gathers. There is also a Sand Martin nesting wall, which adds interest from late March to September.
The path from Goosander Hide leads on to Lapwing Hide via an area of willow and reedbed. Lapwing Hide looks west over the northern half of Ibsley Water and gives a good overall view of this part of the lake, which is the favoured area for wintering Black-necked Grebe.
To the south of Ellingham Drove is Ivy Lake, although also a gravel pit, the setting is quite different, being set in woodland. This area of the reserve has the Education Centre and a further three hides. Ivy North Hide overlooks a small reedbeed where Bittern have been regular in winter along with Great Egret, including the legendary ‘Walter’, Europe’s oldest known of his kind. Also overlooking the lake is Ivy South Hide, from where a range of wildfowl can be seen in winter and the tern rafts in summer. The final hide is Woodland Hide, where feeders, a hexagonal design and one-way glass provide all round views of masses of common woodland species with the occasional scarcer ones thrown in. In late winter Brambling and Redpoll can be here in good numbers.
There are six bird hides and almost five miles of gravel paths and enough variety of habitat for there to be a good range of birds, enough to occupy a good half day of anyone’s time. There is also an Education Centre which has some site information and toilets, there are sightings boards in each car park and log books in every hide, as well as regular postings on the Blashford blog. There are tramper buggers available to borrow for less mobile visitors.
The Lakes are located at Ellingham Drove, Ringwood, BH24 3PJ. The main car park is on the north side of Ellingham Drove, while the Education Centre parking is on the south side of Ellingham Drove. There is free access within opening hours (09:00-16:30), including hides, Education Centre and toilets. Paths are accessible outside opening hours. Entry is free, although donations are appreciated. A map of the reserve can be viewed here
Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust – Blashford Lakes
Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust – Blashford Lakes trail guide
Birding For All – Blashford Lakes
Words by Bob Chapman, Blashford Lakes Reserves Officer