CROSSNESS NATURE RESERVE has been described as “an oasis within an industrialised urban environment, providing a unique opportunity to escape city life and enjoy one of the last remaining areas of grazing marsh within the Greater London area”. It is in Thamesmead (in the London Borough of Bexley), situated between Crossness Sewage Treatment Works and Norman Road, to the north of the A2016 (Eastern Way) This particular area is known as North Marsh (map). The site covers 20 hectare (49 acres). Because of its regionally important communities of wetland birds, plants and invertebrates, the site has been designated as a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation and has been awarded Local Nature Reserve status. The equally extensive area known as South Marsh, south of Eastern Way, is also of significant interest. including a network of reedy ditches and ponds connected by boardwalks, scrub and grassland. The reserve is owned and managed by Thames Water and some sensitive areas and hides are only open to Friends group. The application pack document (find it here) provides a good site map (p5) and area map (p7).
The reserve is part of the original Thames floodplain known collectively as the Erith Marshes. Over the years, much of the marshland complex has been lost to business and residential development, and the nature reserve was established in 1996 to secure part of the declining marshland habitat for nature conservation and public access. Apart from the creation of the Great Breach Lagoon to drain the marsh after the devastating floods of 1953, little had previously been done to manage the site, but since 1996 Thames Water has carried out a number of projects to improve the reserve for both wildlife and visitors. This work has included the creation of a shingle island and the excavation of a wader scrape, near to which are an artificial sand martin wall, a bat cave and an artificial nesting cliff (all constructed using reclaimed concrete pilings and other materials found in the surrounding industrial area). This enhancement work has attracted several awards.
The reserve includes grazing marsh, a large reedbed, a network of ditches, open water, scrub and rough grassland. Important plant species include knotted hedge-parsley and Borrer’s saltmarsh grass (species characteristic of closely grazed grassland), and marsh dock – a Kent Red Data Book species. The site’s natural features have been supplemented with a wader scrape, a shingle island, a sand martin wall, a bat cave and a dipping-pond.
BIRDS More than 130 species of bird have been recorded at Crossness Nature Reserve.
The Great Breach Lagoon attracts good numbers of wintering wildfowl, including Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall and Shoveler, in addition to typical species such as Coot, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Grey Heron and Little Grebe. The wet meadow provides a high tide roost for impressive numbers of Lapwing, Dunlin and Redshank, and the ditches attract Little Egret. In October 2017 the site had a long-awaited first visit from a Great White Egret. At low tide, the mud flats of Halfway Reach Bay, which can be viewed from the sea wall, provide feeding grounds for huge numbers of wetland birds.
Little Ringed Plover have successfully bred on the shingle island. The wader scrape attracts Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Greenshank and Snipe. Other waders that have been recorded on the reserve include Sanderling, Temminck’s Stint, Wood Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit.
The large reedbed (largest in the London Borough of Bexley) has breeding and a chance to view Water Rail, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Reed Bunting. The reserve is the only site within Greater London to support breeding Barn Owls.
Other species recorded at the site include Peregrine, Blue-headed Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Cetti’s Warbler, Marsh Warbler, London's first Great Reed Warbler in spring 2019, Dartford Warbler, Penduline Tit, Bearded Tit, Linnet, Stonechat, Whinchat, Black Redstart, Ring Ouzel, and Red-backed Shrike.
OTHER VERTEBRATES The reserve’s reed-fringed ditches are a stronghold for Water Vole. Other mammals species include Field Vole, Common Shrew, Pygmy Shrew, Field Mouse and Fox.
INVERTEBRATES A number of rare aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates are present on the reserve. Several rare water beetles have been recorded in the ditches and several rare terrestrial invertebrates in the ditch margins. Among a number of rare invertebrates in the reedbeds is the twin-spotted wainscot moth (a reedbed specialist with larvae that feed internally on reed stems). A rare leaf hopper and chrysomelid beetle were recorded in a survey of the ungrazed grassland, alongside Roesel’s bush-cricket (common in the Thames Estuary but rare elsewhere in the UK). Lepidoptera include Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Orange Tip butterflies and Cinnabar Moth. Dragonflies and damselflies include the Emperor Dragonfly, Broad-bodied Chaser, Common Darter, Ruddy Darter, Banded Demoiselle, Common Blue Damselfly and Blue-tailed Damselfly.
DIRECTIONS The nature reserve is north of Eastern Way (A2016), east of Crossness Sewage Treatment Works on Belvedere Road, Abbey Wood, London SE2. There is no parking at the site and limited street parking in Belvedere Road and Norman Road. However, there is an unofficial agreement between Thames Water and the owners of the Thamesview Golf Course (Fairway Drive, Thamesmead, SE28 8PP), located to the west of the Sewage Treatment Works, that visitors can use their parking, toilets and restaurant facilities, and then access the nature reserve via the Thames Pathway (a 1.3km riverside walk). The golf centre is now derelict, however there is parking in the streets nearby.
Those approaching by public transport should head for either Abbey Wood Rail Station, taking bus 229 to Crossway and walking along the Thames Path, or Belvedere Rail Station, taking the 401 bus stopping just past Norman Road junction with Eastern Way, where a public footpath crosses the nature reserve towards the Thames Path. The 180 bus from Lewisham to Belvedere Industrial Area, via Woolwich and Abbey Wood, also stops here. Detailed directions can be found here.
As a recent visitor to the site, if using public transport, I would recommend checking tide times (!) and walking from Belvedere Station: from the east-bound platform, exit the station and turn right (there is an information board on the left as you leave which you might find interesting), and walk straight up Norman Road, cross Clydesdale Way, bearing left round the pub to pedestrian light to cross to the north side of Eastern Way. There is a large (Asda?) depot on the north side of Eastern Way; at the left hand side of the entrance road to this depot is a metal gate, which gives you access to the south side of the reserve (I assume that this is North Marsh). There is an often muddy path leading north west to the river path - birds often perch on fence posts - which goes past the entrance to the protected area. On reaching the sea wall/Thames Path, turn left and a short walk will take you to the outlet where large numbers of birds gather. The protected are can also be muddy.
You could stay on the train and go to the next stop, Erith, and walk back west to the reserve, but clearly at high tide few birds will be seen. It's over 1.5 miles, possibly longer.
Using the bus from Abbey Wood Station is not difficult, although the buses are not that frequent. The walk from the golf range to the outlet takes over 30 minutes and once again high tide would not allow much birding. There are some viewing points, but the sea wall is mostly too high to look over. Finding your way back to the bus stop I found a little tricky (in other words I got lost). If going from Abbey Wood, it is simpler to get back by way of Belvedere Station.
Note that on Sunday, there is only one train every hour to/from Abbey Wood/Belvedere/Erith.
I have yet to find a way of getting to the south marsh, but there are two buses from near Belvedere Station which stop near the Bexley Business Academy and walking from there is possible across South Park (it helps to take all the maps from the information pack!).
ACCESS The site can be accessed by public footpaths from Norman Road (off Eastern Way), from Belvedere Road or from the Thames Pathway. The public footpaths across the reserve allow visitors to view the grazing fields, a wet meadow, ditches, ponds and the Great Breach Lagoon.
Although most of the site is open to public access, the most sensitive area for wildlife is in a protected area accessible only to members of the Friends of Crossness Nature Reserve (or on the occasional warden-led guided walk). Information on how to join the Friends is available here.
Access for disabled visitors is limited, although Thames Water intends to make some improvements. A map detailing disabled access (slopes, path surfaces and distances) can be obtained from the Conservation Warden, Karen Sutton, at Crossness Sewage Treatment Works, Nature Reserve Office, Abbey Wood, London SE2 9AQ (tel 020 8507 4889; email firstname.lastname@example.org).
FACILITIES Within the members-only area a concrete hide built into an earth bank provides close views of the wader scrape. There are no toilets on the reserve. Food and toilets can be found at Thamesview Golf Club about 1.3km west of the reserve (see “Directions” above.)
This page has been prepared from various internet sources by someone who has never been to Crossness but thinks that it deserves a page on this website. If you are familiar with the site, please correct, expand and/or update this information. Please!