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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Arundel WWT & RSPB Pulborough Brooks. Cattle, Great and Little Egrets. 30.10.21

I took the train to Arundel (changing at Ford). As I walked up Mill Road toward the Arundel Wetland and Wildlife Trust I saw four Cattle Egret in field of cattle in between the Arundel Lawn Tennis Club and the spur of the Arun that runs to Swanbourne Lake.

The Cattle Egret were foraging insects on the ground and in the air, stirred up by the cattle's hooves.

The Arundel and Wildfowl and Wetland Trust

Dalmatian Pelicans - non-native "exhibit"

Dalmatian pelicans were a familiar sight in UK wetlands 2000 years ago, but they became extinct here as their wetland homes were drained and people hunted them for food. These big birds are built to fish with a huge throat pouch under an oversized beak that holds up to 3 buckets of water, acting like a net to scoop up prey.

Their new home on Pelican Cove was built in tandem with the brand new Coastal Creek aviary next door. We moved collection birds and relocated the fish and eels from the old World wildfowl exhibit in Nov 2019. Tree cuts that December were followed by earth movers in Jan 2020. The Covid 19 pandemic slowed construction down, as did a pair of oystercatchers who nested and raised two chicks in the middle of the construction site! The exhibit with its two islands where the pelicans will gather for daily feeds was completed in Dec 2020. Take a Peek at Pelican Cove | WWT

I did not photograph any of the other "exhibition" non-native birds in the Wetland Centre; the other photos from the WWT are of native UK birds that have chosen to "live" in the WWT.

Male Tufted Duck

Juvenile Moorhen


Canada Geese

A Grey Heron

A Gadwall

A Great White Egret

From the Scrape Hide

Compared to the now familiar little egret, the great white egret is enormous, almost as large as a grey heron. A few decades ago, records of great white egret were less than annual, but many now winter in the UK and a few pairs even nest here. Visiting birds can be found in all kinds of wetland habitats, even farmland ditches! They stand in shallow water, waiting for fish, insects and amphibians to approach, then spear them with their dagger-like bill

Great white egrets can appear in almost any part of the UK, though they are most frequently found in south-east England and East Anglia. The Somerset Levels were home to the UK’s first breeding pair of great white egrets in 2012. Great white egret | The Wildlife Trusts

A Male Shoveler

Great White Egret and a Coot

A Grey Heron and Mallards

After visiting the Arundel WWT centre I visited Swanbourne Lake, just south of the centre.

Swanbourne Lake lies in the lower part of a deep steep-sided valley or coombe that has been eroded into the chalk bedrock. The valley starts at the crest of the Downs and ends in the flood plain of the River Arun, which is underlain by soft alluvial clay and peat. In its natural state, the lower part of the valley would also have had alluvium and probably a stream fed from springs that emerged from the chalk. Damming of a stream in the valley, marked on maps as Pugh Dean Bottom, eventually created the lake that we see today with its overflow of a sparkling chalk stream we know as the Mill Stream. The whole area is rich with plants and wildlife such as local and exotic water birds, water rats, voles, bats and dragonflies. (With grateful thanks to David Shilston for this information.)

A mill pond is known to have existed on the site in the c11th prior to the Norman Conquest. Records tell us that in 1066 the mill pond powered a water mill which was valued at 40/- per annum. In 1340 the mill tithes bought in £3 and income from the mill supported the Priory (Next to St Nicholas Church), the castle Chaplain (In 1301) and the leper hospital of St. James which was located in the area now known as Park Bottom (In 1272).

During the Civil War William Waller’s Parliamentarian troops entered Arundel from South Stoke along Mill lane and “beat down” the two earth works erected by the castle defenders. There is a very brief reference to the pond as a water source in 1644 during the Civil War noting that the pipes supplying water were cut by the Parliamentarians. The reference infers that there was a pumped supply from outside the castle to the besieged Royalist troops inside but no indication to the type of pump or how it was powered although it is likely that water would have been pumped to a cistern in the castle grounds from one of the springs at the south end of the pond.

In 1768/9 the mill is recorded as grinding corn for Sir John Shelley of Michelgrove – a great political opponent to the Duke of Norfolk of the day, Duke Edward. The mill pond which was located near to the current road was enlarged in the late 1700s covering about 17 acres to become the lake we see today.


‘Arundel Mill and Castle, the subject of John Constable’s last great oil painting was not exhibited at the royal Academy until after his death in 1837. Constable adored Arundel and wrote,

“I never saw such beauty on natural landscapes before ….the meadows are lovely, so is the delightful river, but the trees are above all”.

The old water mill was demolished c1844 to make way for the castle Dairy, new pump house, a cow shed and dairyman’s residence.

In 1846 Queen Victoria was given a tour of the new dairy and wrote in her diary: ‘We lunched with all the company, and afterwards took a nice, long walk with them all down the Slopes Walk to a charming Dairy, with gardens and a pretty little cottage, for the Duchess’s use, all so nicely kept. ‘The dairy still supplied the castle with butter, cream and milk in 1893 even when the Duke and his family were in London. Any surplus was given to the poor of the parish.


Tufted Duck

And I passed the Cattle Egret again walking back to the station to get the train to Pulborough

Little Egret - this I saw all the UK Egrets in one day - Great White, Cattle and Little

A Cattle Egret foraging for insects

RSPB Pulborough Brooks

There were very few birds at Pulborough Brooks today; partly because clay pigeon shootist shot clay pigeons very close to the reserve for most of the afternoon scaring off many birds.

The birds I saw - Shovelers, Teal, many Lapwings, two Ruff and Canada Geese were all too far away to take good photos.

St George's Mushrooms

Walking across the brooks back to Pulborough



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