Thank you to William Legge for contributing this site guide.
Designated as an SSSI, Fleet Pond Local Nature Reserve comprises 141 acres of varied habitat including heathland, woodland, reedbed, marsh and open water, the latter covering 52 acres (21ha), some 35% of the total area of the reserve. Home to many species of birds, mammals, butterflies, dragonflies and flora, the reserve is located just north of Fleet town centre, in the north-east corner of Hampshire, and is owned and managed by Hart District Council with significant input from the Fleet Pond Society, a voluntary organisation formed in 1976 to protect and manage Fleet Pond Nature Reserve.
The site can lay claim to an impressive bird checklist at 227 species recorded at the reserve and the immediately adjoining MOD land to the east since 1970, a total that few other inland sites in Central Southern England can match.
Current breeding birds include Gadwall (since 2017), Tufted Duck (a recently returned breeder), Great Crested Grebe, Grey Heron, Black-headed Gull (since 2012), Water Rail, Kingfisher, Reed Warbler, Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Reed Bunting. Common Tern (a former breeder) and Hobbies are present throughout summer months, and 2019 saw the first attempted breeding of a pair of Mediterranean Gulls. Former breeders over the last 50-years have included Ruddy Duck, Lapwing, Cormorant, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Red-backed Shrike (last in 1971), Willow Warbler and Willow Tit.
In winter the Pond attracts few wildfowl these days given the current lack of aquatic plants save for a few Teal and the occasional build-up of Shoveler in late autumn, but good numbers of Great Crested Grebes persist. Bitterns were regular winter visitors until 2004 but the increasingly dry nature and maturity of the largest reedbeds has seen the site miss out on the renaissance of this species in the UK, and the last confirmed record of Bittern dates back to March 2012. However, the site still attracts plenty of wintering Snipe and Water Rail as well as large flocks of Siskin, and lesser concentrations of Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll and Brambling, the latter a best bet in late winter/early spring. The Brookly and Kenilworth Woods are the most favoured locations for these finch flocks and this southwest corner of the reserve is also the best shot for connecting with a wintering Firecrest. Autumn and winter roosts vary year to year but can include notable counts of Greylag and Canada Geese, Starling, Redwing, Fieldfare, Magpie, Greenfinch and new over the last year, Jackdaw. There is also a small but inconsistent Little Egret roost.
However, Fleet Pond is best known for its migrants and is probably the best inland Hampshire site to connect with Little Gull, Black Tern and Arctic Tern in spring outside of the Avon Valley. Little Ringed Plover, Common and Green Sandpipers are regular in passage, but few other waders are likely to be encountered given the lack of undisturbed shoreline, unless your visit is lucky enough to coincide with a circling Greenshank, Whimbrel or Black-tailed Godwit. The Dry Heath, East Marsh, and Sandy Hill Copse can yield large mixed flocks of expected migrant passerines in early autumn including Spotted Flycatcher and occasionally something better such a Lesser Whitethroat or Pied Flycatcher, while the adjoining MOD set aside fields regularly host Stonechat and the occasional Tree Pipit or Whinchat. Persistent observation of the site does yield scarcer migrants, for example several Garganey, a Kittiwake and Osprey this year. The site can also deliver impressive ‘mig-vis’ and cold weather movements in the right conditions (best witnessed from the upper level of the Fleet Station Car Park), and given the size of open water, stray seabirds are not out of the question. Waifs and strays have included Grey Phalarope, Gannet, Fulmar, Long-tailed Skua and Roseate Tern. Finally the site lays claim to an impressive list of national rarities and scarcities, particularly for an inland location, with Blue-winged Teal (pair, 1980), Ferruginous Duck (1986/87), Ring-necked Duck (1986 & 1993), Alpine Swift (2010), Little Bittern (1996), Purple Heron (1998, 1999 & 2000), Black Kite (1988 & 1996), Great Reed Warbler (1970, 1975 & 1980), Collared Pratincole (1974), Whiskered Tern (2005), White-winged Black Tern (1970 & 1992) and Citrine Wagtail (1993). It’s definitively due another rarity…….so watch this place!
Fleet Pond can be accessed via the M3 (junction 4a). Take signs for Fleet and once on the A3013 look out for the reserve signpost to the left. Alternative access is possible via Fleet Station Car Park (nominal parking charges on Sundays and holidays) or at the end of Wellington Avenue, Chestnut Grove or Westover Road, the latter accessed from the A3013 via Avondale Road in Fleet. Its adjacency to Fleet Station makes this site accessible by rail from London (50 minutes from London Waterloo) or from the Southwest. Maintained footpaths provide access throughout the reserve although there are surprisingly few vantage points offering full views of the pond itself, with the path on the northern side of the reserve offering the best views of the main pond as well as the upper level of Station Car Park.
The Lion’s View platform on the north side of the reserve is worth a visit and provides views over Cormorant Island and points south. While a circuit of the Pond can be undertaken in 30-40 minutes at a steady walking pace, allow up to 3 hours for a thorough birding circuit to include the Dry Heath and the edges of the MOD fields and between 45-55 species should be possible in any season.
For further information do visit the Fleet Pond Society website (www.fleetpond.org.uk) or access their new Fleet Pond App launched this year. For those interested to help with the restoration and management tasks, the Society has regular half-day volunteer working events most months and annual membership of the Fleet Pond Society is an affordable £10 with members receiving a quarterly newsletter, that includes a bird report written by yours truly!