drift reservoir

The UK’s most southerly reservoir attracts more than its fair share of scarce and rare waterbirds

Drift Reservoir lies between Penzance and Land’s End on the minor road signposted to Sancreed, north of the A30 at the centre of Drift village. It is owned by South West Water and managed by South West Lakes Trust (SWLT). The Society has a management agreement with SWLT and provides a warden to maintain the habitat and keep the access paths clear. Due to insurance issues, access is for Members Only away from the obvious public areas.

It is the most south westerly reservoir in England, created in 1961 following the damming of the Newlyn River. The nature reserve is confined to the northwest arm, with a bird hide and no access for angling. In 1999 a reedbed was created further north of the hide and this has recently been doubled in size. Due to its location, Drift has done well through the years with rare waders, ducks and gulls, and to date over 240 different species have been recorded at the site.

Birding tips

There is a large free public car park at the southern end (SW436288) where you have a good view across most of the water and can choose which bank to walk out on; the western side is normally the most productive. From the car park, drop down the steep grass slope towards the dam and turn left through a gate marked permit holders only, where access is restricted to Society members only. After about 300m you get to a vantage point overlooking the bulk of the reservoir; from there you can scan through the flocks of gulls and ducks. One of the beauties of Drift is that with relatively low numbers of ducks, so checking through the flocks is a relatively simple affair.

If you follow the path beyond the boardwalk, you reach the bird hide which is located at the base of the northwest arm, giving views into the reserve and across to the most popular area for bathing gulls. It also gives the closest views of the field between the two arms where the gulls preen after they have bathed. There is a constant changeover, with gulls coming and going all the time and it is well worth spending time going through the flock several times. This is also the area where the Canada Geese prefer to graze and it is always worth checking these for anything rarer tucked in with them. The area in front of the hide is usually the first to reveal exposed mud if the water levels drop and so is a favoured spot for passage waders.

The reserve is the least disturbed part of the reservoir and its shallow water is favoured by the dabbling ducks and you should be able to find Teal, Wigeon and Little Grebe feeding in the dense bankside vegetation. Beyond the hide and through the first area of woodland there is a small reed bed. This was created primarily to filter farm run off but has provided excellent habitat for birds, especially now that it has matured. The clumps of willow here regularly hold wintering Chiffchaff, and Siberian Chiffchaff, Firecrest and Yellow-browed Warbler have all been found with them. Unfortunately, there is no circular path around the reservoir unless you divert up to Sellan Farm (SW427300) and back down from Skimmel Bridge (SW436302). Most birders settle for ‘scope
views up the northern arm from the western shore or double back to the dam and walk up the eastern bank. The northern arm has roosting Cormorants in the trees and these regularly include sinensis birds. There are often a few Grey Herons and Little Egrets tucked in with them and one winter a flock of 22 Cattle Egrets roosted here. This is another area where exposed mud attracts waders if the water levels are suitable.



Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Snipe, Lapwing, Great Crested, Little Grebe, Kestrel and Willow Warbler


House Martins, Swallows, Swifts, Breeding Canada Geese, Grebes, Blackcap, Reed and Sedge Warblers, Willow Warbler and Whitethroat


Osprey, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Turnstone, Dunlin, Ringed and Little Ringed Plover, Whimbrel, Ruff and Kingfisher. Neararctic waders are regular when the water levels are suitable.


November is a prime time for returning wildfowl and tucked in with the commoner Tufted Ducks there is a chance of picking out a Ring-necked Duck or Lesser Scaup, as well as the annual Goldeneye, Scaup and Goosander.

Canada Geese, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Great Crested and Little Grebe, Snipe, Woodcock, Yellow-legged, Mediterranean, Iceland and Glaucous Gull,Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Stock Dove and Firecrest.


The site has seen many rarities over the years, including Squacco Heron, Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Bonaparte’s and Laughing Gull, Bufflehead and Booted Eagle. Ospreys are now regular passage migrants.