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The Ingrebourne Valley welcomes our summer visitors

Even though this is a difficult time for all of us the natural world carries on as normal.

You can still visit Ingrebourne Valley and enjoy the sights and sounds of our summer visitors from Africa while remembering to stick to the rules of social distancing.

Try not to stay in one place for too long – give others a chance to enjoy the wildlife.

Keep well and stay safe, hopefully we’ll soon be able to linger longer.

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Arrived from Africa in mid-March having travelled mainly at night. Slightly larger than a Robin, with a short tail.  Feeds mainly on the ground and frequently bobs up and down. Nests are in holes in walls, rocky areas or old rabbit burrows. Supposedly gets it’s name from a derivation of 'white-arse'.


Chiffchaffs started arriving in mid-March with the majority arriving towards the end of the month. A fairly dull looking Olive-Brown bird,  about the size of a Great Tit. One of the easiest to identify from it’s call  as it tells you it’s name with it's distinctive “ Chiff Chaff, Chiff Chaff” call from the tree canopy. They feed on insects plucked from trees or snatched in flight. Most Chiffchaffs depart by the end of September but increasing numbers are staying all year.

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Sand Martins
Sand Martins arrived towards the end of March into early April. Their numbers can be severally affected by drought in Africa. Nests of leaves, grass and feathers are built in tunnels dug in sandy, dry vertical banks. They feed on flying invertebrates and are most often seen at wetland sites where insects are numerous - look out for them over the marshes.


Swallows starting appearing during the second week of April. Their arrival from Africa is said to herald spring and the start of colder weather is signalled by their autumn departure, when their diet of flying insects declines.  Fairly easy to identify with long, forked tails and red throats. They have a  twittering song and looping flight pattern, often seen over pastures and wetland. Nests of mud, twigs and feathers are built on ledges in barns, sheds and under bridges. 

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House Martins
House Martins arrived mid to late April and will depart in September and October. Their nests, made from about 1,000 lumps of clay and lined with feathers, are built under building eaves. They nest communally and often return to the same nest for many years. They are great pest controllers as their diet is almost entirely insects and spiders caught on the wing.

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Arrived at the end of April and into early May and will leave by October These summer visitors come from south of the Sahara in Africa and will return there,  a round trip of over 11,200 kilometres. The male has a grey head, the female brown and both have whitish throats. They feed mainly on invertebrates but take sugar rich berries to build themselves up prior to migration. They prefer low cover in bushes, brambles and nettles, earning them the name “nettlecreeper”.


Arrived from Africa in early May. The adults leave soon after they have laid their eggs in June/July, juveniles a few weeks later. Only the male gives the characteristic “cuckoo” call, the female has a bubbling call. The “cuckoo” call has never been heard in Africa where these birds spend 9 months of the year. You are more likely to hear cuckoos than see one. They eat mainly invertebrates, but also the eggs and small nestlings of other birds. Cuckoos only lay eggs in the nests of other birds (over 100 different species are used, including Dunnocks and Reed Buntings), after first removing one of the original eggs. 12 to 22 eggs are laid per year, all in different nests, leaving it to the foster parents to raise the chick. Females generally lay eggs in a nest belonging to the same species of bird that reared her. Cuckoo chicks instinctively push other eggs and young out of the nest. A Cuckoo in the nest - means an unwelcome intruder.

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I saw my first Swifts this year on 6th May and know they will depart in August. They have long wings and eat, drink, sleep and mate on the wing, only landing to raise their young. It may be 3 years before a fledgling lands. They migrate to and from Equatorial and Southern Africa - a round journey of 22,000 km. With the smallest legs of any bird they are unable to walk or take off from the ground. Fast, agile flyers with unmistakable screaming calls, you are as likely to see them zooming around houses in your street as in the country. Swifts feed entirely on aerial invertebrates. Nests are usually under eaves, within gables and in church towers. In 20 years numbers of this amazing bird have sadly decreased by almost 50%. You can help them by attaching a Swift nesting box to your property - don’t worry they don’t leave a pile of droppings outside their nests.

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Painted Lady Butterflies
Arriving from April each year this amazing butterfly migrates from North Africa to reach Britain and is found in more countries than any other butterfly. They can’t survive cold winters in any form, so fly back in October. The whole journey is not undertaken by individual butterflies but is a series of steps by up to six successive generations so Painted Ladies returning to Africa in the autumn are several generations removed from their ancestors who left Africa earlier in the year. The butterflies stop off in several countries on route to breed and produce the next generation. With up to 56mm wing span they are now believed to migrate further then any other butterfly. They feed on many plants including buddleia, thistle and nettle.

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Bumble Bee

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Carder Bee


Where have our flying insects gone ???


Over the last 25 years the abundance of flying insects has dropped by 75%. Do you remember a quarter of a century ago, when driving down the road you would have to regularly clean your windscreen to remove the insects stuck to it?  Now think about when you are driving now.  I can't remember the last time I had to clean my windscreen of insects; but I can remember cleaning bird mess, dust and dirt.

So what has happened? Insects are a very important part of the life cycle on earth; they are the pollinators of our crops and prey for other wildlife. Although the reason for the decline of our insects is not clear yet, the probable causes are the loss of wild areas, the use of pesticides on our farm lands.

Insects used to make up approximately two-thirds of all life on earth by weight, but they are becoming less noticeable. With temperatures rising, the use of pesticides and pollution in our rivers, something needs to be done.

What can we do?

There are a number of things we can do; we can help insects by planting wild flowers in our gardens which are attractive to pollinating insects throughout the year.  Talk to Havering Council and lobby your local Councillor about helping to create more wildflower meadows in our parks and open spaces.


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Damselfly Larvae

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Cased Caddis Fly Larvae

About our rivers

There are many miss-connections due to people not understanding how the sewerage system works. If your house was built after 1920, then your house will be connected to two different sewer systems, the main system is the “foul water system” which takes the water from our toilets, baths, showers, sinks and washing machines. The other sort is the “surface water system” which takes water from our roofs, gutters, patios and road side drains. The water from these goes directly into our rivers or into the sea. If your house was built before 1920, you should check whether you have a duel system or combined sewer system, the combined system takes all water from your roofs and toilets and goes down the same system to the sewerage plant.

What can we do?

Rivers are the life blood of everything, if they become polluted the wildlife that lives in them will start to disappear, like invertebrates and fish that live in the river. If you see pollution in a river or stream, like soap suds or sewerage fungus near outlets into the rivers or streams, it should be reported to the local water company and the Environment Agency.

Roding, Beam and Ingrebourne Catchment Plan (RBI)


The Roding, Beam & Ingrebourne Catchment Partnership is a focused group of local stakeholders who are working together through a Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) to improve the rivers in the Roding, Beam & Ingrebourne Catchment and bring direct on-the-ground benefit to people and wildlife.  The Friends Group is just one of the members of this partnership.  This Catchment Plan sets out the required actions which will seek to improve the physical functioning and condition of the rivers and tributaries within the Roding, Beam & Ingrebourne Catchment, thus benefiting both wildlife and people.  To see the Catchment Plan and Vision Summary, go to our Documents tab and click on the links to see how you can help move this forward.




Friends of Ingrebourne Valley and Hornchurch Country Park.