East India Dock Basin Nature Reserve is a small Thames-side site based around the former entrance basin of the East India Docks. The reserve includes a tidal lagoon and the closest patch of genuine saltmarsh to Central London, along with a reedbed and small areas of meadow and woodland.
Owned and managed by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, the reserve is the southernmost section of the Lea Valley Park. It is within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (despite information on the west gate that incorrectly puts it in Newham).
Address: East India Dock Basin, Orchard Place, London E14 9QS (Map:; OS grid reference TQ391808)
History[edit | edit source]
The East India Docks were built between 1803 and 1806 by the East India Dock Company for the import of goods such as spices, tea and silk from the East Indies. After being taken over by the Port of London Authority in 1909, the docks remained successful until the Second World War, when they played a key role as a construction site for the floating mulberry harbours used by the Allies to support the 1944 D-Day landings in France. After the war, part of the dock closed because of war damage and the remainder became obsolete with the containerisation of cargo in the 1960s. The PLA closed the dock in 1967, after which most of the site was filled in and built upon. However, the entrance basin and surrounding area were acquired by the newly formed Lee Valley Regional Park Authority for conversion into a nature reserve.
This site was in fact, like Bow Creek Ecology Park, under the stewardship of The London Docklands Development Corporation ( 1981-1998). It was originally marked out for residential development. The LDDC started the ecology project in the 1990s by situating tern rafts in the basin and several other Dockland locations. The project was managed and completed by LDDC with significant consultancy input from the London Ecology Unit ( John Archer). It was passed to the Lea Valley Regional Park in 1998.
Habitat[edit | edit source]
Despite its relatively small size, the reserve has a diverse range of habitats. The dock has been naturalised as a include a tidal lagoon with a shingle island and mudflats, which almost disappear at high tide, and rafts.
On the northern side of the basin is a dense narrow reedbed formed from Common Reed and Sea Club-rush and a saltmarsh dominated (unusually) by Buttonweed, with Sea Milkwort, Sea Arrowgrass and (rare in London) Wild Celery.
The basin walls support plants such as Buttonweed, Fern-grass and Sea Aster, as well as a few species, such as Wild Carrot, that have colonised from an adjacent area of grassland. Managed as meadow, the grassland includes Warty Cabbage and Salsify in addition to more common meadow flowers such as Ladies Bedstraw and Salad Burnet.
Woodland occurs in three areas around the site. North of the saltmarsh a band of willow carr shades into drier woodland along the northern perimeter adjacent to the main road (Lower Lea Crossing). The other two woodland blocks are in the south-east and south-west corners of the site, next to the Thames.
Species[edit | edit source]
Specialities of the site include Black Redstart in autumn and winter, Kingfisher, breeding Linnet and Grey Wagtail, passage warblers and Little Ringed Plover, breeding Common Tern, and occasional Little Egret and Yellow-legged Gull. The reed bed can hold Reed Warbler and Reed Bunting. Winter can produce such local delights as Redwing and Meadow Pipit.
Although the site might look a little unpromising, it is in pole position for the Lea Valley migration flyway, and regular watching has yielded surprises: Barred Warbler, several Firecrest, Nightingale, Siskin, Whimbrel, Honey Buzzard, Roseate Tern, Little Tern, Sandwich Tern and Black Tern have been seen in recent years. Actually, this site is something of a tern hotspot for London, at peak migration times in the right conditions. Birds appear to be funnelled down the Thames, and then rise high over the Isle of Dogs, or turn north up the River Lea.
For a pretty small artificial tidal basin, the astonishing thing about the Dock in winter is the number of birds that it can hold. These are dominated, from mid-afternoon, by incredible numbers of Teal, which fly in to roost from other areas nearby. In early 2010 Teal numbers reached more than 400 birds on several occasions, and to stand and watch (and listen) to these birds coming in is a wonderful birding experience, let alone in such an unusual reserve.
From the southern edge of the site, Peregrine can be seen on and around The O2 (Millennium Dome), and the Thames can be scanned for stray seabirds in the right conditions. Watching the Thames during migration periods has produced seabirds such as Arctic Tern, Black Tern, Sandwich Tern, Little Tern, Shag and Kittiwake, particularly in bad weather with easterly winds.
An exit point at the western side enables the Lea to be viewed, where there are resident Grey Wagtail and the possibility of Black Redstart. There is also a high tide Redshank roost in winter (opposite the Esso garage), which in hard weather can sometimes reach treble figures; this is also one of the most reliable sites in the Lea Valley for wintering Common Sandpiper.
The only terrestrial mammals regularly seen on site are Grey Squirrel and Red Fox. Grey and Common Seals and Harbour Porpoise are occasionally seen in the adjacent Thames. The Basin holds fish including Eel and Thin-lipped Grey Mullet, with large numbers of juveniles of the latter species sometimes present in summer.
Dragonflies regularly seen around the Basin include Southern and Migrant Hawkers, Common and Ruddy Darters and Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies. Banded Demoiselle has been recorded at least once. A wider range of Odonata, including Small Red-eyed Damselfly, occur in the pond in the business park on the other side of the main road on Saffron Avenue. Butterflies include Common Blue, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Speckled Wood. A Long-tailed Blue was a surprise find in 2012. Roesel's Bush-cricket is common, providing a constant background noise on warm summer days.
Practicalities[edit | edit source]
If arriving by train, the nearest station is East India (Docklands Light Railway). From the station walk directly towards the Thames and then turn left and walk alongside the river to enter the reserve. Canning Town station (London Underground) is also within walking distance. The reserve has a car park with an entrance in Orchard Place. If the car park is closed, it is possible to park in the slip road leading to Orchard Place and then enter the reserve at the north-east corner through the small gate. This road has yellow lines, so be vigilant about parking hours. Buses 115 and 277 pass close to the reserve.
There is free public access to the park, which opens daily at 8.30am and closes at 9pm in July and August, at 7.30pm in September and October and from April to June, and at 5pm from November to March. A thorough circuit of the site takes about half an hour.
Onsite facilities include viewing hides. There are no on-site refreshment facilities. A 1940s-style American diner (Fat Boy’s Diner) can be found nearby at 64 Orchard Place. It is open from 10am to 5pm daily, except Mondays, serving burgers, breakfasts, omelettes and sandwiches.
Nearby Sites[edit | edit source]
Bow Creek Ecology Park
Bow Creek Ecology Park can be easily taken in during a visit to EIDB. The entrance is via the blue bridge visible over the Lea, further up the A13/East India Dock Road. The site has Reed Warbler in summer and a small patch of vaguely promising flooded grass and marsh in winter, which, during freezing weather in January 2010 hosted both Common Snipe and Jack Snipe.
Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park
Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, with a variety of woodland birds, is a 10-minute walk west along Mile End Road from Bow Church station (Docklands Light Railway).
Isle of Dogs
In late August, on a low tide, it is worth getting off the Docklands Light Railway at Island Gardens station to see if the regular Ring-billed Gull is showing at the end of the Glenaffric Avenue slipway, and to check for finches, thrushes and Monk Parakeet at Mudchute Farm.
Listings[edit | edit source]
Richard Harrison's 2008 Patchlist 
Jonathan Lethbridge's 2008 Patchlist 
Paul Hyland's EIDB Patchlist 
Gary A James' 2008 Patchlist (76 species at 12 December)
Little Grebe, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Shelduck, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Peregrine, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Sandwich Tern, Black Tern, Stock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Feral Pigeon, Kingfisher,Great Spotted Woodpecker, Swift, Swallow, Sand Martin, House Martin, Rock Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Black Redstart, Wheatear, Whinchat, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Redwing, Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Reed Warbler, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Starling, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Jay, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Linnet, Reed Bunting. (76 Species)
Gary A James 2009 Patchlist 
Nick Tanner’s 2009 Patchlist