Down on a bend in the Thames near Barnes in London is one of England’s most important wildlife habitats, the WWT London Wetland Centre.
The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) was established by Sir Peter Scott in 1946 to prevent the extinction of many species of birds, some of which had dwindled to tiny populations by that time. He established several sites across the country, but when the London Water Ring Main was established in 1988 it rendered the old Victorian reservoirs in Barnes redundant and Sir Peter saw this as a golden opportunity to introduce something entirely new to London. Equipped with a 200 year lease on the land and several million pounds worth of funding, work started on what would eventually become the 104 acre WWT London Wetland Centre – the old concrete reservoirs were broken up and a range of new habitats were established to suit particular types of bird, with the centre finally opening to the public in 2000. It was recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) as early as 2002.
Visit the WWT London Wetland Centre today and you will discover lakes, pools, wader scrapes, reed beds, marshes and water meadows that see visits from over 191 species of birds throughout the year, from the commonplace tufted duck to previously threatened species such as barnacle geese and shoveller ducks, whose populations have exploded since the centre was established. Although you can wander around and spot birds in the open, there are six hides dotted throughout the centre that will allow you to get a close-up view, as well as being a useful shelter when the weather turns nasty! The largest of these is the impressive three-storey Peacock Tower which gives you a commanding view over the main lake, the grazing marsh and the reservoir lagoon beyond (which seemed to be a favourite of several species of crane today). The World Wetlands area also mimics the natural habitats of the rarer species which the centre accommodates, with plants and landscaping that clearly make them feel at home.
Because of the very favourable conditions at the WWT London Wetland Centre, reptiles, ambhibians, insects and small mammals have also made their home here – there are several species of snakes to be found on the site, many rare moths, butterflies and dragonflies populate the wild flower meadows and lake fringes, and even the endangered water vole immortalised in Kenneth Grahame’s ‘Wind In The Willows’ can be found here in numbers. Much to the delight of younger visitors, otters are a recent arrival – specifically a small family of Lutra lutra, our native species. I’m pretty sure that with the improvement in river conditions across the country they’re not endangered these days, but their enclosure is certainly a major draw for visitors to the centre. In addition to the otters, the centre has many facilities for keeping children entertained – the Discovery Centre, Explore Adventure area and the Pond Zone are all aimed at kids.
For the adults seeking something different there are always the bats! There’s a bat sanctuary at the WWT London Wetland Centre which can see activity by up to nine of the UK’s seventeen different species, and there are occasional ‘Big Bat Walks’ in the evenings for the curious. Do check the centre’s website for the next round of tours if our little leathery-winged friends get you excited – after having spent many an evening on the Welsh coast with groups of bats flying in tight circles around me in the dark I’m not entirely sure how I feel about them if I’m honest!
If you’re planning a visit to the WWT London Wetland Centre I would definitely recommend taking part in one of the guided tours – our expert guide earlier today really helped the group appreciate the site, including pointing out animals that we wouldn’t otherwise have seen. Going on a guided tour will also equip you with information on the site’s history, and of course the staff are able to answer the most detailed questions on any and all birds that you spot. Tours take place at 11am and 2pm daily, and at 3pm you’re invited to go along and see the exotic birds in the World Wetlands area being fed.
Entry to the WWT London Wetlands Centre costs £10.99 for adults and £6.10 for children (with gift aid included). You can find out lots more at their website here, and there’s lots of social media activity to check out including their Twitter feed and Facebook fan page. As well as the slideshow above I’ve compiled an extensive album of images which you can look at here on Google+ to get a feel for what your visit might entail.