Gallions Reach is a stretch of the Thames in East London, downstream from the Woolwich Ferry. It offers a reasonable chance of seeing seabirds, which rarely penetrate further upstream towards central London. Gallions Reach also offers a feeding ground and roost for several wader species that are also rarely seen further into London. The river and foreshore can be watched from a riverside path that is part of the Capital Ring.
Address: N/A (Map:; OS grid reference TQ446805)
Note: The river and foreshore can also be watched from the Thames Path, which follows the river's south bank, but this site description concentrates on the north bank (which is mainly within postal district E16 in the London Borough of Newham).
Like most of the lower reaches of the Thames, Gallions Reach was once flanked by marshland, but the construction of the Royal Group of Docks between 1855 and 1921 brought industry to the north bank. The docks are now closed to commercial shipping and are used mainly for water sports. The former quays between the Royal Albert Dock and the King George V Dock now form the runway for London City Airport. A gas works and a large sewage treatment plant remain at the Beckton end of the site.
The Thames at Gallions Reach is about 600m wide at high tide and has an open aspect, with few tall buildings near the shore. At low tide the exposed foreshore is up to about 50m wide. Gary A. James, who pioneered birding here, has on a number of occasions noted seabirds and waders fly upriver but then turn back as they approached Woolwich. He suspects that they are deterred from progressing further upstream by the way the river channel narrows (to about 450m) and the buildings start to rise, giving a hemmed-in feeling.
The site is open to the elements and it is recommended that waterproofs and warm clothing are taken with you.
The fenced off area of dense scrub with various small trees, birch etc, at the end of Atlantis Avenue, is to have houses built on it starting in the next year or so. I notice there are still Kestrels hunting over these areas of wasteland - I bet when houses have been built over all these areas over next few years then the Kestrels will disappear! (Michael Mac Sept 2018)
Suggested Walk Edit
Gary A. James offers the following suggested walking route: “From Gallions Reach DLR turn left into Atlantis Avenue and continue past the Buhler Factory site. You will see the River Thames in front of you. When you reach the Thames, turn right and continue along the riverside path. (Please do not go into fenced off areas, which are patrolled by security guards.) The river in this area is the best place to look for seabirds and wildfowl. The foreshore here can hold good numbers of waders in the right conditions. The riverside path continues along to Albert Dock Lock, which can be crossed, although it is sometimes closed for works or shipping. The river again can be viewed from this area. After crossing Albert Dock you have two options: you can continue along the riverside path (follow signs), or take the road that leads to views across Albert Dock and King George Dock. The riverside path also involves crossing the much wider lock at King George Dock, again this lock may be closed. On the other side of the lock turn left to continue along the river. The river can be followed as far as the Woolwich Ferry. From the ferry it is a short walk to King George DLR station.”
Without wishing to upstage Gary's kind suggestions, I would add the following, having walked both banks of the Reach on 6/9/18. Whilst it is possible to walk the north bank by approaching from King George V DLR station, the roads there are not straightforward. It could be me, but finding Pier Road near the DLR was beyond me - it should be easy. In any event walking east from Woolwich Ferry is not that easy as at least one block of flats has a locked gate (this gate is opened by pressing a button on the wall - but is locked in the evenings from about 6pm approx - Michael Mac), meaning a detour, plus there is currently lots of building work near the Gallions Reach DLR making life difficult. It is probably best to get the 474 bus from Albert Road to Gallions Reach DLR and then use Gary's directions above, or just go straight to Gallions Reach DLR (a longish DLR journey from the south bank). It is then much easier to walk west along the Thames Path (especially as you can exit the block of flats easily!). As I am discovering, tide times are crucial to any trips to Thames-side sites. Best to avoid high tides completely, and low tides tend to mean foreshore birds are often just too distant for binocular use, especially in poor light. (Paul Francis)
Although Gallions Reach has been watched regularly only since the beginning of 2012, it has produced some good birds. Seabirds that have followed the Thames as far as Gallions Reach include: Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar, Arctic Skua, Common Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser. Puffin, Great Skua, Gannet
Waders roosting or feeding on the foreshore in winter and spring regularly include Black-tailed Godwit (up to 435), Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Whimbrel, Redshank (up to 240), Dunlin (up to 85), Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Grey Plover (up to 14) and Ringed Plover.
Sightings of gulls and terns have included Little Tern, Black Tern, Sandwich Tern,Roseate Tern, Sabine’s Gull, Little Gull, Kittiwake, Glaucous Gull,Iceland Gull, Bonapartes Gull and Caspian Gull, as well as Common Tern and Arctic Tern and all the commoner gulls.
Passerines of interest include the occasional Rock Pipit on the foreshore and Firecrest, Common Redstart and Black Redstart at the gasworks site, Wheatear and Linnet (up to 40). Gary A. James writes: “To get the best out of this area you need to put lots of time in and be patient. Weather and tidal conditions play a large part in what species can be seen. Be aware there is no cover in this area, so bring waterproofs and warm clothing.”
Other vertebrates Edit
A Harbour Porpoise was reported in April 2012. Rabbits have been seen on the north bank. Common and Grey Seals have also been sighted.
The area is a hot spot for Jersey Tiger Moths and 14+ were recorded 4th August 2013.
Butterflies recorded include Essex Skipper, Brown Argus, Clouded Yellow, Small Heath.
Gallions Reach is a site where hard work can pay off, though blank days predominate. Weather conditions are crucial. Though diversity and the number of species seen annually are good, the number birds of individual species are low. Passerines in particular are a difficult group. Certainly sites like Dagenham Chase, Fairlop and Wanstead are much better birding sites and have far greater density of birds. But if you are prepared to put in the hours in poor weather conditions, then Gallions Reach can be rewarding. (GA James)
The site is about 2km south of the roundabout where the A406 North Circular Road ends at the A13, but if you intend to arrive by car, be aware that there is no public parking in the area and the local parking wardens are particularly vigilant. If you must drive, park at Gallions Reach Shopping Park and walk east and then south along Armada Way to Atlantis Avenue (about 15 minutes). The railway station nearest to the North Woolwich end of the site is King George V (DLR Woolwich Arsenal branch) and at the Beckton end the nearest is Gallions Reach (DLR Beckton branch). From King George V follow Pier Road to the river and turn left; from Gallions Reach, walk east along Atlantis Avenue and turn right at the river. Bus routes 101, 262, 366, 474 and N551 serve Gallions Reach station. Bus 474 (a 24-hour service) also passes along Albert Road, close to King George V station. To approach the site by air, fly to London City Airport and catch a 473 bus to Woolwich Ferry North Terminal.
There is 24-hour access to the site along the Capital Ring footpath, which follows the riverbank from North Woolwich as far as Atlantis Avenue, where it turns away from the Thames. Leaving the path and entering fenced-off areas is likely to attract the attention of security guards.
Food and drink can be obtained at the Henley Arms (268 Albert Road) and the Royal Standard (116 Albert Road, E16 2NQ), two bleak-looking pubs that have been given mediocre reviews on pub guide websites. Snacks and meals can also be bought in the Gallions Reach Shopping Park. There are also numerous hotels with bars and also the Fox at Connaught pub (Lynx Way, E16 1JR) located at Royal Victoria Dock near the ExCel Exhibition Centre (nearest DLR stations are Royal Victoria, Custom House for ExCel, and Prince Regent). (Further information needed, please — eg, better pubs, restaurants, public loos.
This Local Patches page was created by Gary A. James, with additional information added by other contributors.