Rye Meads Nature Reserve is an extensive wetland reserve covering 34 hectares (85 acres) beside the River Lea at Hoddesden, Hertfordshire. The reserve offers a variety of habitats, including lagoons, pools, scrapes and the largest area of reedbed in Hertfordshire, plus the last substantial remnants of ancient flood meadow in the Lee Valley. The reserve is jointly managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust. It is part of a larger Site of Special Scientific Interest and has recently been designated a Special Protection Area for Birds.
Address: RSPB Rye Meads, Rye Road, Stanstead Abbotts, Ware SG12 8JS Map:; OS grid reference TL389103)
The mainly wetland area west of Toll House Stream, which bisects the site, was established as an RSPB reserve in 1960 and was originally known as Rye House Marsh; the slightly larger area to the east of the stream, which consists mainly of ancient meadow, was set up as a separate reserve by HMWT. The two areas are now jointly managed by the two bodies as a single reserve. Further history information (and corrections?) needed, please.
The seasonal flooding of the meadow combined with the rich soils and management of the site have resulted in a mosaic of habitats, consisting of reedbeds, marshy grasslands and tall fen vegetation. They are now managed as a series of compartments demonstrating a range of habitats from shallow pools and scrapes through reed bed to carr. In and around the meadow are ditches, streams and ponds, providing a home for amphibians and grass snakes as well as many invertebrates.
The site’s star species, according to the RSPB, include three that have been encouraged to nest on the site: Common Tern, which make use of specially made nest rafts, Kingfisher, which nest in artificial sandbanks, and Kestrel, for which special nest boxes have been provided. Other notable species include Gadwall, which occur in large numbers on the open water in winter, and Green Sandpiper, which are often present in winter as well as passing through during spring and autumn migration.
Year-round resident species include the usual finches, tits and woodpeckers, many of which make use of feeders near the visitor centre. A recent addition to the list is Cetti’s Warbler. On the open water can be seen common species of duck and grebe. In 2012, Barn Owl bred on the reserve for the first time in its 50-plus-year history.
Winter visitors include Fieldfare and Redwing. Waterfowl numbers increase and may include Goldeneye and Smew. Water Rail and the occasional Bittern skulk in the reedbeds. Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer roost in the reserve. When flooded, the meadows attract Snipe, Golden Plover and Teal.
In summer the site attracts nesting warblers, including Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler in the reedbeds and Garden Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and Blackcap in the surrounding vegetation. Other breeding birds include several species of duck, Water Rail, Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover and Redshank. Reed Bunting and Cuckoo may be seen, and Hobby hawk over the scrape.
Passage migrants include Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper.
Rye Mead's impressive list of rarities comprises Little Bittern, Squacco Heron (July 1979), Purple Heron, White-tailed Eagle (February 2012), Goshawk, Broad-billed Sandpiper (July 1958), Great Snipe (1959 & 1996), Solitary Sandpiper (September 2002), Bluethroat, Savi's Warbler (May 1989), Melodious Warbler, Barred Warbler, Great Grey Shrike and Little Bunting.
Mammals found on the site include Rabbit, Water Vole, Water Shrew, Harvest Mouse, Red Fox and Muntjac. Otters have recently returned after many years’ absence. European Buffalo and Konik ponies can be seen grazing the wet meadow managed by the HMWT. The ditches, streams and ponds in and around the meadow attract frogs, toads, newts and grass snakes.
Butterflies (including brimstone and orange tip), dragonflies and damselflies can be found at the site in spring and summer. Further information needed, please.
By road: If your vehicle weighs less than 5 tons, you can reach the reserve from the A10 by taking the Hoddesden turn (Dinant Link Road). At the second roundabout, turn left into Essex Road and then first left into Pindar Street (one-way). As Pindar Street bends right, ignore Farm Road and turn left along Normandy Way. Take the first left turn into Fisherman’s Way (through a housing estate) and at a T-junction turn right on Rye Road. Look out for the blue and yellow Rye Meads visitor centre on the left.
If approaching from the east, follow the B181 and, just south of the A414, turn along Rye Road. Shortly before the Rye Meads visitor centre you will have to feed 50p into a machine to pass through a toll gate (50p, 20p and 10p coins are accepted). The reserve’s car park has a £2 parking fee for non-members of the RSPB (members should display their membership card on the dashboard).
By train: The reserve entrance is a five-minute walk from Rye House station, on the Hertford East Spur of the Cambridge to Liverpool Street line. Change at Broxbourne to access the spur. Climb the steps out of the station and turn right (northeast) along Rye Road.
By bus: The nearest bus stop is about 10 minutes’ walk from the reserve, in Old Highway. Walk southeast to reach Rye Road and turn left (northeast), passing Rye House Station, to reach the reserve. Check the local timetable for routes and frequency of service, but be warned that there may be long gaps between buses.
The reserve opens daily (except Christmas Day and Boxing Day) from 10am till 5pm or dusk if earlier. There is no entrance charge. Dogs are not allowed (except guide dogs). All paths within the reserve are suitable for wheelchairs and baby buggies and most of the hides are wheelchair-accessible.
These include a surfaced car park (with three designated disabled bays), 10 hides, seats at various points around the site, a visitor centre with toilets (including a wheelchair-accessible toilet that also has baby-changing facilities), a picnic area and three nature trails. At the visitor centre you can hire binoculars or borrow a wheelchair. The nature trails (550m, 750m and 1.5km) are all suitable for wheelchairs and baby buggies). The only refreshments available at the visitor centre are hot drinks. Pub food can be purchased from noon onwards at the Rye House pub near Rye House station.
This page has been cobbled together from various internet sources by someone who has not managed to visit the site in years but thinks that it deserves a page on the website. If you are familiar with the site, please correct, expand and/or update this information (and delete or amend this paragraph).