Behind the Location: Walthamstow Wetlands

Radical Giving - Uprising - Walthamstow Wetlands

Can you tell us a brief history about Walthamstow Wetlands?

Located just 15 minutes from Central London, Walthamstow Wetlands is a 211-hectare nature reserve as well as a Thames Water operational site serving 3.5 million people with drinking water.

Following an investment of £10.6million, the site has now been redeveloped into Europe’s largest urban wetland nature reserve and opened to the wider public for the very first time in 150 years.

With an abundance of wildlife and a rich industrial history, Walthamstow Wetlands offers a haven to explore, enjoy and get close to nature in the heart of London.

The new Engine House also includes a cafe, visitor centre and shop whilst the Grade II listed Copper mill Tower provides a unique platform to enjoy stunning views across the capital.

The Wetlands have been closed for 150 years, what was the main reason for this?

From the mid-19th century, London’s growing population required a greater, more reliable supply of clean water. Walthamstow was chosen as an ideal location for this purpose with 10 reservoirs being created between 1863 and 1904.

The Wetlands have continued to supply clean drinking water for the last 150 years and continue to do so today – currently serving 3.5 million Thames Water customers.

In 2017, after several years of planning, restoration and habitat enhancement, Walthamstow Wetlands was finally opened to the wider public to serve people of all ages and interests, encouraging them to use the space to observe wildlife and learn about the site’s special nature.

What has changed for it now to be opened to the public?

Following a £10.6 million investment from Heritage Lottery Fund, Thames Water and the London Borough of Waltham Forest, the site has been transformed into a public wetland.

The funding has been allocated to redevelop the 1894 locally-listed Engine House to include a visitor centre, cafe, gallery, viewing terrace and educational space.

The project has also enriched existing habitats and created entirely new ones in order to attract a range of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.

Can you name a few activities that the public can take part in at Walthamstow Wetlands?

Weekly activities take place throughout the year to engage with the local community and with those further afield. Events help visitors get closer to the unique nature and wildlife of the site and understand why the site is so special and needs protecting – for example, there are Birdwatching Courses, Wildlife Photography Workshops and Bat Tours throughout the year.

Walthamstow Wetlands also provides a unique setting for children of all ages and interests to learn, discover and explore - there are free storytelling and wildlife activities on different nature themes on alternative Mondays and Wednesdays as well as arts & crafts, nature trails and mammal home-building workshops.

There are also a range of exciting volunteering opportunities, available for people of all abilities, to help protect the future of Walthamstow Wetlands.

Can you please name a few of the birds that can be seen at Walthamstow Wetlands?

Walthamstow Wetlands is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It also forms part of the Lee Valley Special Protection Area and is a Ramsar wetland designated site of international importance.

The ten reservoirs are home to overwintering wildfowl such as pochard and gadwall and are regionally important for breeding birds such as grey heron, tufted duck and little egret. Swifts visit throughout summer and kingfisher and peregrine falcon can often be seen all year round.

Has there been any new sightings of rare birds at Walthamstow Wetands?

Spring is always considered a good month for birding at Walthamstow Wetlands but this year it is proving truly exceptional.

Rare sightings over recent weeks have included a male white-spotted bluethroat - the first at Walthamstow since 1936 – and also a male European serin, an over-wintering little bunting and the stunning hoopoe - last seen at the reservoirs approximately twenty years ago. It is thought that well over 1,000 birders have come to see the little bunting over the 77 days it stayed at the wetlands!

Can you give us some insight on how the water is kept clean?

Walthamstow Wetlands continues to be a Thames Water operational site as well as a nature reserve. Thames Water staff are onsite at all times to work on the reservoirs and ensure the water is kept clean. As a result, there will be times when maintenance works will need to be carried out onsite and to keep visitors safe, these works will occasionally affect access to Walthamstow Wetlands.

We would also ask all visitors to be aware of heavy machinery and vehicles operating on site throughout opening times.

If I wanted to volunteer at Walthamstow Wetlands how would I go about it?

Volunteering at Walthamstow Wetlands is managed by the site’s conservation partner, London Wildlife Trust. For details on volunteering opportunities, please email Nadia Ward at nward@wildlondon.org.uk

What would be the role of volunteers on a daily basis?

Wetland habitats are extremely rare in urban areas and to protect the site’s future legacy, conservation work, led by the London Wildlife Trust, plays a vital role in the long-term management of the wildlife territories.

The project has enriched existing habitats as well as created entirely new ones - for example, new reedbeds have been introduced in the low-lying reservoirs to support wildfowl populations and attract rare birds. Trees have also been planted and new meadows and grasslands have been created whilst bat roosting boxes, bird nest boxes and bird feeding stations have been installed throughout the site.

As part of the conservation works, there are a range of exciting volunteering opportunities available for people of all abilities, to help protect the future of Walthamstow Wetlands. People can get involved by helping care for the habitats, by assisting as a guide on various tours or as a welcome host in the visitor centre.

What's next for Walthamstow wetlands?

With plenty of nesting and singing birds, spring is an especially great time to visit and learn about why the site is so special and needs to be protected.

There are also a wonderful variety of events coming up at Walthamstow Wetlands.

To celebrate the Chelsea Fringe Festival in May, there will be a botanical sculpture trail onsite where locally sourced materials will be repurposed to create fantastic displays of the resident flora and fauna.

During Swift Awareness Week in June, there will also be talks and out-of-hours walks to discover more about our migratory friends which hopefully will be visiting the specially built Swift Tower in the Engine House.

For all the latest news on these events and others, do visit the Walthamstow Wetlands website as there will be plenty more activities scheduled for the months ahead.

Check out more of Walthamstow Wetlands here - https://walthamstowwetlands.com/


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