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Come Face to Face with
London's Wetland Centre Birdlife

Christine Roberts

It's just over a year since The Wetland Centre London opened its doors to the public. This very different visitor attraction is located in Barnes, only four miles from the city centre. And, as Europe's largest and cleverly designed urban wetland creation, it's unique, "natural" landscape does not disappoint!

The stlg16 million project took five years to complete giving both Londoners and visitors the chance to experience and enjoy a space in London that is created specifically for enjoyment, enabling them to get close to wetland wildlife.

Among the 140 bird species to be observed - some in nationally important numbers - is the Lapwing - a bird whose numbers have seen a 50% decline in the last decade alone - the Little-ringed Plover, Pochard, Reed and Sedge Warbler, who are all now breeding at the Centre. And there is a wealth of opportunities for wildlife to flourish here, from reedbeds with breeding Reed Warbler to pools teeming with amphibians and dragonflies.

The three-story Peacock Tower, complete with lift for full wheelchair access, offers superb views of the wild areas and the London skyline, while six other hides provide a panoramic view of wetland life, particularly of ducks and wading birds.

A mosaic of lagoons, lakes, ponds and pools spans over 105 glorious acres. Developed by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) on the site of four redundant Thames Water reservoirs, this extraordinary Centre was made possible through the unique partnership between WWT, Thames Water and Berkeley Homes. 

Because this was a Site of Special Scientific Interest, Thames Water were anxious to find a sympathetic use for the land. Coincidentally, Sir Peter Scott "father of conservation" and founder of WWT, was looking at this very same time for a site within London to build a new WWT Centre. Subsequently, third partner, Berkeley Homes, developed approximately 25 acres of the site into a prestigious housing development. 

During a stroll through the 14 different wetland world habitats expect to experience habitats ranging from an Australian billabong to Siberian tundra, coming face to beak with some of the most globally threatened ducks, geese and swans. One of the world's most endangered birds is the New Zealand Duck. In addition, you will obtain tips on how to create your own wildlife garden back home, saving water and minimizing pollution. 

I learnt that WWT first bred Freckled Ducks outside of Australia in 1992. These ancient ducks apparently evolved 20 million years ago. Also present was the endangered Nene from the Hawaiian Islands. Some 100 bred, captiveVoles have been released here successfully, too and are monitored through their radio collars. Flightless Steamer Ducks from the Falklands, elegant Black Swans with accompanying cygnets and the Plumed Whistling Duck were a joy to watch.

As an all-weather attraction, the Centre includes an impressive visitor centre and glass observatory, a Discovery Centre, art gallery lecture theatre, fabulous gift and book shop, an outstanding restaurant and the Water Edge Cafe. CCTV relay live images from the 
wilderness areas of the reserve while touch screens provide visitors with interesting facts about wetlands and wildlife they attract.

Admission prices are Adult stlg6.75 Senior stlg5 .50, Child stlg4.00 and a Family ticket stlg17.50. However, WWT has a membership scheme which offers unlimited access to all of their centres throughout the UK for one annual payment.

What a relaxing excursion this can be for business as well as leisure travelers, especially for those visitors with time to spare between long-haul flights or prior to a long-haul flight in the evening. You can spend a few hours to half a day, enjoying a superb lunch - the choice of salads and Italian dishes is particularly good or a light snack.

Recently, this unique Wetland Centre located in Barnes, London was voted overall winner by judges of the most recent British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Awards. 

Other exceptional WWT regional centres that I have visited in Britain are the WWT Arundel Centre in West Sussex, Slimbridge and the Llanelli Centre and Reserve in South Wales. The latter's land has been redeveloped on the north shore of the Burry inlet. On the eastern edge there is an historic port, old docks that have been saved, footpaths and land ridges and a freshwater marsh which provides an additional 1 000 acres to attract a variety of wild birds. 

Its superb habitats include seven unique hides. And it is not surprising that this Centre won the coveted Millennium Marque Award. 

Early in October, 2001, WWT Arundel was reopened following extensive restoration after horrendous winter flooding. The Visitor Centre and grounds have been substantially improved. So, if you are in the area, do pay them a visit! 

Slimbridge, headquarters of the WWT, closed its doors for one month last year during the Foot and Mouth Disease crisis. However, bird lovers will be thrilled to learn that Slimbridge's Tropical House supported the successful rearing of Orange-headed Ground Thrush, Chinese Painted Quail, Orange-spotted Bulbul and Red-headed Parrot Finch. 

Undoubtedly, WWT's nine Centres provide some of the finest, unmissable wetland bird habitats in the United Kingdom. 

Getting there:- Take the Duck Bus (283) which leaves every 15 minutes from the Hammersmith Tube Station, or the return journey from the Centre. Other buses (33,72 and 209) stop nearby the Centre (alight at the Red Lion Pub). Limited car parking is available or alternatively you can travel by train from Waterloo, Clapham Junction or Richmond to Barnes or Barnes Bridge after which you can catch buses 33,72 or 209 to the Centre, or it's ten minutes on foot. Opening times are 9.00am to 5.00pm (6.00pm in summer with the last visitor admitted an hour before closing time). Website: Phone: (020) 8409 4400.

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Email:  Christine Roberts


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Last Revised: Friday, May 15, 2015 06:38:58 AM
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