“Hes East” is the new, eastern campus of the University of York, to the east of Heslington village. It attracts a wide variety of birds, particularly waterfowl, waders and gulls, but also a good selection of other birds.
The site is very new, and still developing. Before 2009 it was arable farmland. Drainage for the new campus required the creation of a large lake (1.2km long), deliberately shaped to be ‘wildlife friendly’ with large South West Lagoons, shallow margins almost everywhere, and deeper central areas. The landscape round it has been sown with wild flowers to create meadows, and over the site as a whole about 50 thousand trees have been planted. The Top Lagoon lies on the northern edge of the site, and here, and round the Main Lake new Phragmites and Typha reed-beds are spreading rapidly. The whole of the area away from college and departmental buildings is actively managed by the university as a nature reserve.
The site attracts large numbers of resident, passage and wintering ducks and geese. Pochards winter in significant numbers and bred in 2015. Grey Herons are common, Little Egrets are regular visitors. Little Grebes breed. Gulls use the site all year, and rarer species turn up regularly. In the early days the bare lake shore attracted significant passage waders, but as the shores have grown over these have declined ; never-the-less Redshanks, Greenshanks, Green Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers, Common Snipe and Jacksnipe are all recorded annually. Oystercatchers and Lapwings breed. Common Terns breed on tern rafts and a Sand Martin ‘hotel’ was used for the first time in 2015. The open ground and remaining areas of waste ground also attract significant numbers of breeding, wintering and migrant passerines, including Wheatears, Meadow Pipits, and Wagtails.
Since 2009 several ‘good’ scarcer species have turned up, but so far no national rarities.
The new meadows support a good range of butterflies; particularly notable are Common Blues and small populations of Southern Brown Argus. Dragonflies and Damselflies are increasing as the lake matures, and include Common Darters, Emperors and Black-tailed Skimmers. Brown Hares are very common.
There is no public parking on Hes East. There is a small parking area on the road in front of Heslington Church (limited to 2 hours Monday-Friday 08.00-18.00). The numbers 44 and 66 buses from York Station via the city centre stop at Heslington Hall, which is a five-minute walk from the north-west entrance to the site via the cross-roads and traffic lights shown on the map. Bikes are a great way to get to, and round the whole area. A public hide overlooks the South West Lagoons. Otherwise, visitors can walk anywhere that is not clearly fenced off, but to minimise disturbance keep away from the edge of the lake.
By John Lawton, September 2015