Wild Things columnist Eric Brown discusses one of SE London's best wildlife havens and how we should make the most of it while we can.

It is often said the best things come in small sizes and that certainly applies to a tiny wildlife gem hidden away on the Abbey Wood/Belvedere border.

Readers unaware of Crossness Nature Reserve should start planning a trip immediately while I hope the following will stimulate established devotees to re-visit.

The Thames Water-owned reserve is situated in an area which at first glance looks totally unattractive to wildlife.

Hemmed in by a busy dual-carriageway, sewage works, warehouses and one of London’s largest incinerator plants, the Lowry-like backdrop suggests wildlife might give it a wide berth.

Yet among the 20 hectares of swaying reeds, pools, grazing marsh, scrub, ditches and rough grassland this rare London oasis harbours wildlife seeking refuge from encroaching industry along the nearby River Thames.

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Water birds, birds of prey, scarce butterflies, mammals and all sorts of insects have been discovered here by biodiversity manager Karen Sutton and her hardworking volunteers.

It’s a tiny sample of how things once were along miles of marsh-fringed Thames before the bulldozers moved in and concrete obliterated a huge wildlife haven.

As a schoolboy I often wandered across these marshes for hours seeking out wading birds and their nests. Now the concrete and glass backdrop to the film Clockwork Orange obscures it all. Well, nearly all.

Crossness continues to defy the march of industry but for how long? Cory Energy has plans for a Riverside Energy Park on the north-east Crossness boundary which will mean a second waste incinerator joining the one at the end of Norman Road.

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Cory already has outline planning permission for two four-storey data storage facilities next to the reserve on one of the few skylark breeding sites in London. Nesting areas for ringed plovers and little ringed plovers are also under threat while the size of the development will hem in the reserve still further, increase pollution concerns and make it less attractive for wildlife. Seems strange we need another rubbish incinerator when we should be concentrating on eliminating rubbish like plastic in the first place. A public inquiry is expected this year.

Next time: More about Crossness and the wildlife to be found there.