We are proud to have partnered with the London Wildlife Trust, and supported them by funding the installation of seven new benches at their Walthamstow Wetlands site. As well as being a fully operational 211 hectare Thames Water reservoir site, which is the main source of water supply for 3.5 million people, Walthamstow Wetlands is also an internationally important nature reserve, providing home and shelter to a wide range of wildlife, from rare waterfowl to majestic birds of prey.
In this guest blog Conservation Officer Peter Salter writes about how to get into birdwatching at Walthamstow Wetlands
Birds are accessible, but often birding isn’t. There are many barriers to birding, it often feels like an intimidating ‘elite’ club to join and at times not very welcoming. Which is a shame. Birds are the easiest and most charismatic varied group to connect with nature, they are just outside your window, they visit your garden/local park, and many have nested within inches from you in the eaves of your home for hundreds of years.
What about mammals you say? But how many wild mammals do you actually see as you go about your day? Grey squirrel? I’ll give you that. A screaming fox raiding your bin in the middle of the night? Unlucky. Most are elusive or nocturnal and you must put the work in, whereas birds are easy to see*. On your commute to work, from your office window or possibly from a bench.
If you fancy looking for birds, Walthamstow Wetlands is a great London hotspot with over 140 species recorded each year. It is a complex of ten working reservoirs owned by Thames Water towards the southern end of the Lea Valley Special Protection Area. The mix of concrete-banked and reed-fringed reservoirs, some with wooded islands, are home to resident kingfishers, grey herons, cormorants, ducks and geese.
The reservoirs opened in October 2017 as a new publicly accessible nature reserve, contributing to making the Lee Valley, a greener and more accessible place to visit. The large expanses of water and the wildlife they support were invisible to local communities for over a hundred years. Access to nature is an integral part of London Wildlife Trust’s mission, and the Trust continues to make its nature reserves more accessible and with the generous support from Leica Sport Optics, you may see a newly installed bench as you wander around the wetlands….do have a sit and enjoy the birds.
Now is a great time of year to visit as passing waders are attracted to the banks as they return from their artic breeding grounds, and other classic autumn migrants can be seen such as whinchat, wheatear and spotted flycatcher.
Once you have had your fill of the common stuff and are fully hooked on birding, there is a chance you’ll see rarer birds (for London) as spoonbill, bearded tit and the huge white-tailed eagle have all been spotted in recent years. The latter being the largest bird of prey in the UK, earning its nickname ‘flying barn doors’. Up until recent years they were extinct in England so to see one fly over the Wetlands earlier this year was something else… that’s equivalent to seeing a brown bear walking through the streets of Hackney.
Often a barrier to birding is the fear of not knowing what that little brown bird barely showing in the undergrowth is or the difference between a herring gull and a Caspian gull (I still don’t). Think about it, your typical ‘birder’ has been birding for decades. I think it is important to say you do not have to identify things to enjoy nature, you can sit back and enjoy the drama in their lives without knowing what they are.
However, if you are curious and would like to know more why not visit during Guide in the Hide or join one of our guided walks. Our friendly volunteers will be able to point things out to you, as well as tell you little more about the heritage of the site, and you never know you may fall in love with the Wetlands and its wildlife as I did and become part of a welcoming birding community here.
*I am being a little facetious, it isn’t just about the birds. The Wetlands are home to a wide variety of wildlife (as is London), a good number of dragonflies, which all have the same name, worded slightly differently… darters, chasers, hawkers. Also, butterflies, grass snakes and yes mammals, we have water voles! If you are lucky, you may hear a plop into the water the next time you visit.