Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve is the first example of a gravel pit site in the UK being developed for nature conservation. It lies immediately north of Sevenoaks in Kent and covers 73 ha of wetlands. Over two thousand species have been identified at the reserve, which is made up of five lakes and a mix of ponds, flooded pools, reedbeds, and woodland. The water levels in the lakes are managed so that specially created islands and shallows are exposed in spring and summer. This creates feeding and nesting areas for waders and waterfowl such as cormorants, terns, oystercatchers, and great crested grebes. While the winter months see large flocks of wildfowl such as greylag geese and tufted ducks using the open water.
There are numerous bird hides throughout the reserve, which are all free to use and located next to the walking trails. As you walk through the reserve you can also look out for woodland birds such as goldcrest, redwings, and jays. As well as red kites soaring overhead and kingfishers darting into the water in a flash of blue!
Average rating: 3.3 (good)
Average cost: free!
Best time to visit: all year round, with wildfowl species being most abundant in winter. The reserve and nature trails are open daily, from dawn until dusk.
How to get there: there is parking available on site which costs around $4 for the day. The nearest rail stations are Sevenoaks, Dunton Green, and Bat & Ball – all of which have regular services and are an easy walk away.
Typical activities: bird watching, walking
Number of reports: 31
Last updated: 2021
WILDLIFE IN sevenoaks
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the top ten most popular species that can be seen here are:
#1 Goldcrest – 19% OF WildSide Users (6/31) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The goldcrest is the UK’s smallest bird, being only 6 cm in length and weighing just 6 grams! Being so small, they can be very hard to spot, and always seem to be on the move. Their high-pitched ‘tsee’ call is useful for locating them in the trees. If you are able to spot one, the main identifying feature is the yellow crown on the top of the head. Goldcrest are widespread across the whole of the UK, but woodlands or parks with large mature trees appear to be the best places to see them. When at the reserve, look out for them darting between the ivy on the large mature trees that surround the lakes.
#2 Common tern – 16% of wildside users (5/31) reported sightings
The common tern is the tern species most likely to be seen breeding inland, and there are estimated to be 12,000 breeding pairs in the UK. They have earned the nickname ‘sea swallow’ due to their long streaming tails and graceful flight. They are smaller than gulls and have a distinctive black head, orange-red bill with a dark tip, and short red legs. At the reserve look out for a pair in the summer that appears to frequent the main lake – you may even see one holding a fish crossways in its bill, which is either to feed young or for the female as part as courtship!
#3 Great Crested Grebe – 97% OF WildSide Users (30/31) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The great crested grebe is an elegant waterbird with distinctive chestnut and black head plumes (in summer) which are raised during courtship. During this courtship display, they rise out of the water and shake their heads. Young grebes, which are striped black and white (like humbugs!), are often seen riding on their parents’ backs. Grebes are known to readily adopt flooded gravel workings and move to large lakes and reservoirs in the autumn. Making the reserve a perfect place to spot them and sightings almost guaranteed.
#4 Greylag Goose – 84% OF WildSide Users (26/31) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The greylag goose is the ancestor of most domestic geese and the largest of the geese native to the UK. Flocks are typically found around gravel pits and lakes, like those at the reserve. They are often seen in large groups alongside Canada geese – which are also found in abundance here. Greylags are a greyish-brown colour with pink legs, and their large bills are orange with white tips. As with most geese, they can be seen flying in ‘V’s’ above the reserve or swimming on the open water.
#5 Kingfisher – 0% OF WildSide Users (0/31) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Kingfishers are typically found near slow-moving water, such as the lakes and ponds at the reserve. They are known for their bright blue and orange feathers and are around the size of house sparrows with large heads and dagger-like bills. There is a kingfisher hide at the reserve where you can look out for them. However, they can be difficult to spot, even with their bright colours. Listen out for their distinctive call (a shrill ‘chreee’ or ‘chee-kee’) which usually provides the best clue to their presence. We haven’t had any luck spotting one at Sevenoaks – but let us know if you do!
#6 Oystercatcher – 13% OF WildSide Users (4/31) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Oystercatchers are large black and white wading birds, with long red bills and pink legs. They breed along the coasts of the UK and have started to breed inland in the last 50 years. In coastal areas, you will likely see them searching for mussels and cockles to eat, while inland they mainly eat worms. Although the reserve doesn’t support large numbers of oystercatchers, keep your eyes peeled and you may see one stood on an island in the East Lake!
#7 Red kite – 3% of wildside users (1/31) reported sightings
After disappearing in both England and Scotland in the late 1800s, the unmistakable red kite was saved from extinction in the UK and there are now estimated to be 4,600 breeding pairs! They are larger than buzzards, with long wings and forked tails. They have reddish-brown bodies with orange-red tails and pale streaked heads. Red kites mainly eat carrion and worms but they are opportunistic and can prey on small mammals. While they are rare visitors to Sevenoaks, make sure you look up when you are at the reserve and you may be lucky enough to see one soaring above the woodland!
#8 Redwing – 26% OF WildSide Users (8/31) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Redwings are winter migrants to the UK, although there are a handful of pairs that nest here. They arrive from September onwards, leaving again in March and April. Redwings look similar to song thrushes but have a creamy stripe above their eyes and red-orange patches on their wings (hence the name!). You can usually see them feeding in fields and hedgerows in open countryside, and they can sometimes be found with flocks of fieldfares. Look out for them in the hedgerows and trees that line the entrance to the reserve, and you may get lucky!
#9 Eurasian jay – 58% of wildside users (18/31) reported sightings
Jays are beautifully coloured members of the crow family. They are easily recognised by the brilliant blue feathers on their wings. You can find them on the reserve year-round, although for much of the year they can be hard to spot. Unlike crows and magpies, they are shy birds. So look out for a flash of white and blue and a screaming call as they fly between the trees. The best time to see them is autumn when they move about the trees looking for food. During this time they are easy to spot hunting for acorns which they store in their favourite hiding places to provide a source of food for the winter.
#10 Great cormorant – 87% OF WildSide Users (27/31) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Great cormorants are usually found around the UK’s rocky coastline. However, they are becoming more common on lakes and rivers inland, especially in winter. If you want to see them at the reserve, they can sometimes be found on the West Lake. Although they are more regularly seen in larger numbers on the East Lake, in front of the Tyler Hide. They are around the size of a goose with large bodies and long necks. Adults are black, with white on their faces and thighs, while juveniles are usually dark brown with pale underparts.
In addition to the top ten, Sevenoaks is also home to a range of other species including: great spotted woodpecker (16% of WildSide users reported sightings), grey heron (87%), ringed plover (13%), and ring necked parakeet (45%).
Photo credit: WildSide team member Chris White