Swanscombe can be accessed via the Thames-side footpath running east from Greenhithe. There is usually parking to be had in the new Ingress Park development, or, failing that, in Greenhithe village. Greenhithe and Swanscombe stations are within walking distance and are on the line from Charing Cross via Dartford. The site has a long industrial history, mainly connected with the cement industry. The cement works have now gone, to be replaced with works associated with tunneling for the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link, which passes under the site. There was als
o a sewage treatment works that at one time was popular with local birders, but this is now disappearing into the undergrowth. There is a flat-topped mound that was once a landfill site. The site is dominated by a huge 670 foot electricity pylon, one of the tallest in the UK, which carries cables high over the Thames.
Swanscombe can be divided into three main areas. From west to east these are: Black Duck Marsh, Broadness and Botany Marsh.
Black Duck Marsh (TQ598755) is close to Greenhithe beside the new Ingress Park housing development. It is an area mainly of reeds and grassland and used to be much wetter than it is now. The Thames foreshore here is a good area for Rock Pipit in winter (with counts reaching double figures) and it is not unusual for one or two Water Pipit to be present as well. There is a small wood at the southern end of the marsh, which contains a heronry. There is also a small lake at TQ603759 which usually has a few freshwater wildfowl. Like a lot of the site Black Duck Marsh is earmarked for future development.
Broadness (TQ605766) is one of the most reliable sites for Turnstone in the London area; small numbers can often be found between November and March near the light tower at the end of the point. There are small areas of saltmarsh around the point. There is a collection of wooden houses and houseboats around the creek on the western side of the point; it is best to respect the residents' privacy and not approach too closely. Broadness is a good point to watch the Thames for passage gulls and terns. There is always the chance of something more unusual, such as a skua or auk, especially in northerly winds in autumn. It pays to look behind you, as some birds choose to take a short cut inland of the point.
Botany Marsh (TQ610755) is south of Broadness and is an area of reed-lined ditches, marsh and grassland. It has a peaceful quality that is rare on the Kent side of the Thames in the LNHS area. This is a fine area to walk round early on a spring morning, when it is full of singing Reed Warblers. Again, with the new Ebbsfleet station not far away, this area is threatened with development.
Swanscombe Marsh is being squeezed by development on all sides but for the moment it has much to interest the visiting birder. It is worth a visit at any time of the year as its mix of habitats means that there is usually something to see.
20 January 2007