Compiled by Colin Lambert, revised by Alan Gardiner (March 2009)
Tring Reservoirs attract all kinds of wildlife and are recognised as one of the best sites in the region for wintering wildfowl. The reed beds hold breeding warblers and Reed Buntings in the summer and one of the largest heronries in Herts is at Wilstone Reservoir. Autumn and spring migration can bring in some exciting birds, however Tring Reservoirs are worth a visit at any time of year. The area around the reservoirs is also rich in canal heritage with numerous locks and colourful narrow boats; the Wendover branch is being restored to full working order and a new section is already in use.
There are four reservoirs, Wilstone, Marsworth, Startop’s End and Tringford, each with a different character. A network of footpaths and canal towpaths make it possible to take a short walk around one of the reservoirs in an hour or two or explore the reservoirs fully in a day. See the map below for possible routes.
There are two main car parks, a free one at Wilstone Reservoir (SP904134) and a pay-and-display facility (2009 price £1.50/day) at Startop’s End Reservoir (SP919140). There are a number of other roadside locations where parking is possible, most notably adjacent to the cemetery (SP912135). There are three public hides and a Friends of Tring Reservoirs members’ hide at Thames Water lagoon for which a key is required.
The footpaths from Startop’s End Reservoir car park along the Grand Union Canal, and between Startop’s End and Marsworth Reservoirs, are flat and suitable for wheelchairs.
The area around the reservoirs is a nature reserve but dogs are allowed. Please keep to footpaths.
Toilets are for patrons only at the tearoom in Startop’s End Reservoir car park and nearby pubs.
wtw= water treatment works,W= Wilstone, M=Marsworth, T=Tringford, S= Startop's End
Wildlife at Tring Reservoirs
Grey Herons build large nests in the small trees at the heronry at Wilstone and by April the first scruffy chicks can be seen from the bank.
Watch for Hobbies and hundreds of Sand Martins, House Martins, Swallows and Swifts catching insects over the water, feeding up after their long journey north.
Migrating Arctic Terns, Black Terns, Little Gulls and Little Terns pass through in spring while Common Terns arrive for the summer.
Passage birds often include Common Sandpipers, Dunlin, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel and a Great White Egret was seen in April 2008. Osprey and Marsh Harrier regularly pass through the area in April. Passerine migrants such as Redstart, Pied Flycatcher and Yellow Wagtail also occur.
Sedge Warblers, Reed Warblers and Reed Bunting nest in the reeds. Cuckoos call from their perches in the trees above the reed beds
Herons fish along the canals and by mid summer the adults will be joined by young herons in their greyer plumage. Look closely at the Great Crested Grebes they may be carrying a black and white striped chick on their back. At the end of July migrating waders such as Spotted Redshank and Ruff can be seen if water levels are suitably low and in August wader migration is significant with the chance of a rarity such as the Least Sandpiper that appeared in August 2003. Species such as Whimbrel and Wood Sandpiper are also possible visitors.
Black-tailed Skimmers and Common Blue Damselflies hover over the water margins and grassy banks, while Ruddy and Common Darters can be found sunbathing in the hedgerows.
Watch out for Common Terns fishing over the reservoirs and canals.
Passage waders can still be numerous if water levels are low, exposing the mud to Greenshank, Redshank, Little Stint, Dunlin, Common and Green Sandpipers as well as the species that are seen in August.
Ospreys are regular migrants and Hobbys gather to prey on the large flocks of hirundines providing spectacular views.
Wildfowl such as Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler start to arrive back from their breeding grounds.
Large rafts of Great Crested Grebes gather at Wilstone. Meadow and Rock Pipits are found around the edges of the reservoirs on passage. Comma butterflies feed on blackberries and large Migrant Hawker dragonflies patrol the paths around Wilstone.
Large numbers of wintering wildfowl on the open water include Shoveler, Teal, Goldeneye, Goosander and occasionally Smew. Thousands of gulls come to roost on the open water and Starlings, Reed Buntings and Corn Buntings roost in the reed beds, especially at Marsworth.
Lapwing and Golden Plover flocks rest at Wilstone Reservoir when not feeding in the surrounding fields. Bitterns and Water Rails are in the reed beds and may be heard in the early morning or as evening draws in. Little Owls breed around the reservoirs but are most easily seen in the winter, sitting in the old leafless willows.
Other local attractions
There are two pubs and a tearoom by the Startop’s End Reservoir car park, there is also a tearoom close to the Wilstone Reservoir car park and other pubs in Marsworth village, Wilstone village and at Bulbourne. They all serve food and can be incorporated in a circular walk using footpaths and canal towpaths. After you have finished your visit to the reservoirs, why not visit the Walter Rothschild Natural History Museum in nearby Tring? More information is available here about the museum which is free to enter.