Brent Reservoir, also commonly known as the Welsh Harp, is a large reservoir with natural banks lying adjacent to the North Circular Road in Neasden and surrounded by marshland, woodland, unimproved grassland and playing fields. Regular birders ("Brent Birders") are mainly members of the Welsh Harp Conservation Group (see below), which can provide keys to the hides.
The main point of access is off West Hendon Broadway NW9 along Cool Oak Lane. You can park in Woolmead Avenue, just before the bridge which crosses the reservoir (but note that on weekdays street parking in the whole area is restricted to resident permit holders between 10.00 and 11.00). There is also a small car park further along Cool Oak Lane at the top of Woodfield Park and a larger one at the north end of the site off Goldsmith Avenue NW9 (where the road bends sharply).
For access using public transport the closest station to the hides is Hendon rail station (Thameslink), which is a 10-minute walk away: turn right out of station, walk down Station Road and left at the end onto West Hendon Broadway, crossing over (at traffic lights) to go down Cool Oak Lane. If arriving by London Underground, head for Hendon Central (Northern Line) and cross Queens Road to catch bus 83 to West Hendon Broadway, or go to Wembley Park (Metropolitan and Jubilee Lines) and take bus 297 or 182 to Blackbird Hill, getting off at the stop opposite Lidl and walking along Birchen Grove to the dam (western) end of the reservoir. West Hendon Broadway is also served by buses 32, 142 and 183 and Blackbird Hill by buses 182, 245 and 302. Route 112 follows the North Circular Road (A406) past the south side of the reservoir..
Map of the site
There is 24-hour open access to all the open spaces surrounding the reservoir. A key (obtainable from the Welsh Harp Conservation Group, see below) is required for access to the two hides overlooking East Marsh (Main Hide; Heron Hide). However, anyone is welcome in the hides whenever a keyholder is present. You are most likely to find the hides open early on Saturday and Sunday mornings. To reach these hides follow the footpath that starts just east of the bridge on Cool Oak Lane. In the North Marsh is a permanently open public hide with a raised viewing platform nearby. To reach them, follow the footpath north from the west side of Cool Oak Lane bridge.
View from the main hide looking towards the dam with Wembley Stadium in the background (Photo by Andrew Self)
There are no toilet or refreshment facilities on the site. The nearest are at Birchen Grove Garden Centre (NW9 8RY) and the Hendon branch of Sainsbury’s (NW9 6JX), both within a short walk of the site.
Birchen Grove Garden Centre To reach the garden centre (which is the largest in Greater London), leave the site at its western end along Birchen Grove and at the bend in the road turn right through the Welsh Harp Environmental Education Centre (marked "Field Studies Centre" on the above map). The garden centre's hours are 9am to 5.30pm (Sundays 11am to 5pm). Its cafe is normally open whenever the store is open but on Sundays it opens early at 10.30am. On sale are hot and cold drinks, light meals and snack foods such as sandwiches and filled jacket potatoes.
Sainsbury’s To reach the large Sainsbury’s store, leave the site at the far end of the northern marsh, beyond the bowling green, and turn right along Goldsmith Avenue to The Hyde. Across the road you will see Sainsbury’s, open from 7am to 10pm (Sundays 10.30am to 4.30pm). Plenty of snack foods and cold drinks are on sale, and if you have no shame you could even patronise the in-store Starsucks outlet.
A good circular walk starts at the Cool Oak Lane bridge and has a total distance of about 2.8 kilometres (1.75 miles).
Follow the north bank of the main reservoir towards the dam end. After 20 metres there is a viewing platform overlooking the main reservoir. Other viewpoints over the reservoir are near a jetty opposite a sailing club, and a little further on at the Bomb Crater Pond.
From the pond you can either continue along the main footpath or take a minor path that runs closer to the reservoir. When you reach the car park by the dam, double back east on the tarmac path (Hornbeam Walk) along the top end of the large grassy field (Shrike Field). After the path bends to the left and a school appears on your left, look for an obvious gap in the hedge on the right hand side which leads out to playing fields. Walk up the playing field to the road and cross over.
Follow the signpost towards Silver Jubilee Park and walk around the top football pitch towards the gorse patch. Take one of the paths that lead down the slope to West Hendon Playing Fields. You will see a large area of rough grass on the right. Take the footpath that cuts through the middle of it and turn right onto another path. This area is known as the Dump and is good for migrants.
Follow the path down a slope towards the Northern Reservoir where you will find a viewing platform and a public hide, then continue along the path, checking the old allotments on your right, until you find yourself back at Cool Oak Lane bridge.
(Having completed the circular walk, you may then wish to visit the WHCG hides. To reach them, cross the bridge, cross the road and follow the obvious footpath into East Marsh.)
The Welsh Harp Conservation Group can provide birders with keys to the East Marsh hides for a nominal fee (telephone 020 8447 1810). The group works closely with the Canal & River Trust (formerly British Waterways), which owns the reservoir, and the London Boroughs of Brent and Barnet, which own the surrounding open spaces. During the winter months, the group arranges work parties (usually on the second Saturday of the month) to carry out maintenance jobs such as cutting reeds, clearing overgrown paths and removing saplings from the gorse patch. (These jobs formerly also included raft maintenance, but because the East Marsh has silted up in recent years, the WHCG boat can no longer reach the rafts safely.)
Jointly with the RSPB North-West London Local Group, the WHCG also hosts regular birdwalks, usually on the second or third Sunday of the month, which start at Cool Oak Lane bridge at 10am. For dates, see here.
Annual reports for every year since 2007 can be downloaded from the Welsh Harp Conservation Group website, as can the latest edition of Birds of Brent Reservoir: Facts and Figures, which updates the information published in Birds of Brent Reservoir: The natural history of the Welsh Harp (2002). Copies of this book are still available and can be obtained from Andrew Haynes (andrewhaynes [AT] live.co.uk) at a cost of £12 a copy. All proceeds from sales of the book go towards conservation management work at the reservoir.
The reservoir was completed in 1840 and the birdlife has been recorded since then (in fact it was 'birded' – i.e. birds were shot – during its construction). With such a long history inevitably it has an impressive list of rarities, such as the UK's first Iberian Chiffchaff in 1972. Other rarities include White-rumped Sandpiper, Hume's Warbler, Lesser Scaup, Blue-winged Teal and Great White Egret.
The site was designated an SSSI for its breeding wetland birds such as Great Crested Grebe, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Common Tern and is also now a Local Nature Reserve.
A recently fledged Common Tern at Brent Reservoir (Photo by Andrew Self)
Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler (occasionally), Pochard (occasionally), Tufted Duck, Ruddy Duck (until the national cull of this species), Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Grey Heron (first bred successfully in 2018), Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, Little Ringed Plover (occasionally), Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull (occasionally), Common Tern, Feral Dove, Stock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Little Owl (occasionally), Tawny Owl, Swift, Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, House Martin (in West Hendon Broadway), Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Cetti's Warbler (since 2017), Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Willow Warbler (former breeder), Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Jay, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting.
Pair of Great Crested Grebes displaying at Brent Reservoir (Photo by Andrew Self)