REED beds planted at a sewage treatment works are becoming an increasingly popular habitat for a wide variety of birds, some of which are extremely rare.

Northumbrian Water’s Birtley sewage works, near Chester-le-Street, has recorded four new species already this year, taking the total since records began in 2006 to 129 different varieties.

One of the new species was a bittern, which is classed as a priority species and is on the RSPB’s red list due to its decline in numbers.

The other new species to visit the site so far this year are little egrets, gadwall and a jack snipe.

Stuart Pudney, of Northumbrian Water, said: “The fact that our sites are secured by fencing makes them ideal for wildlife to flourish undisturbed.

“We also offer access to groups and provide hides at eight of our sites to allow interested people to study birds in a natural environment.

“At 5.2 hectares, the Birtley reed bed is the biggest of its kind that Northumbrian Water has in the North-East.

“The site has become a regular breeding ground and natural habitat for a number of different birds and other types of wildlife.”

Northumbrian Water has 418 sewage treatment works in the North-East, many of which are secure sites that are havens for wildlife.

Richard Barnes, from the Northumbria Ringing Group, said: “The now well established hawthorn and dog rose plantings at Birtley are having the desired effect, with increased sightings and captures of whitethroat and garden warblers - previously a site rarity.

“The reedbeds now have a thriving population of reed warblers, with 40 caught during 2013, and it is almost certainly the best site in Gateshead for the species. Reed buntings also continue to do well, as do sedge warblers.”