Wild About Walthamstow Wetlands
by Kerry Law
With its thriving art and foodie scenes, London’s happening Walthamstow can now add another string to its bow—home to the largest urban wetland reserve in Europe.
The 211-hectare Thames Water reservoir site has been regenerated and is now open to the public for the first time in 150 years. It is free to visit, only 15 minutes from central London—or a short cycle ride if you’re an East London local—and an incredible wildlife oasis in this urban corner of Zone 3.
Start your journey at the locally listed Marine Engine House, where there is a visitor centre, gift shop and café. Make sure you take the stairs (lift is only for wheelchair users but buggies can be left in the entrance) up to the viewing platform for a look out across the reservoirs.
This section also has several touchscreens so you and your little ones can learn more about the wildlife, mostly the abundant birdlife, you can spot. The centre hosts hands-on activities for kids such as arts and crafts, storytelling and mammal home-building (Creation Station were there during our visit). London Wildlife Trust, one of the Wetlands’ partners, will be running conservation and sustainability workshops for schools in the coming months (check the website for the events calendar).
With its 13 miles of mostly wide, flat paths, Walthamstow Wetlands is perfect for a family cycle or walk (just a few sections are a little rougher but doable with a buggy). Several jetties jut out into the reservoirs, allowing you to get a different view of each—on our visit some families procured them for secluded picnic spots.
As urban wetlands of this size are so rare, its ecological importance cannot be underestimated. It is a Site of Special Scientific Importance and home to one of the largest colonies of grey heron and cormorant to be found in the country. Migrating sandpipers, redshank and lapwings stop over here, and kingfishers breed here (sadly, none seen on this visit but most definitely worth returning for!). Take your binoculars and nurture a birdwatching interest in your little ones. Even if you don’t spot a beautiful kingfisher, there is plenty of bird behaviour to observe around the reservoirs’ many islands.
It’s worth finding out about the avian residents at the visitor centre so you’ll know what to spot where. The newly planted reed beds make a great habitat for bearded tits and bitterns, and even the tall chimney of the Engine House includes small slits built into each side to house breeding swifts and bats. Bird hides are yet to be renovated but birdwatchers will enjoy superb watching spots in the coming months as regeneration continues.
Walthamstow Wetlands is open seven days a week, 9:30am to 4pm from October to March and till 5pm from April to September. Limited (fee) parking is available but visitors are encouraged to arrive via public transport (it’s near Blackhorse Road on the Victoria Line) or by bike.
For more information visit www.walthamstowwetlands.com.