One year anniversary

One year anniversary

October 2018 marked one year since National Lottery-funded Walthamstow Wetlands opened its gates to the general public. Since opening, Europe’s largest urban wetland nature reserve has provided a unique resource for the local community and visitors further afield to enjoy the great outdoors and experience nature and wildlife first hand in an urban setting. With over 300k people living within a 5km radius, Walthamstow Wetlands has already welcomed over 415k visitors to learn about this special bird haven, how London’s water is delivered and the site’s fascinating industrial heritage which dates back to at least 1066. The opening year has also seen Walthamstow Wetlands win a plethora of awards including the ‘People’s Choice’ award at the annual New London Architecture Awards 2018 and ‘Best Use of Heritage in Placemaking’ at the Planning Awards 2018 to name but a few.

barn croft school tree planting

As part of the site’s wildlife management and habitat enhancement works over the first year since opening, London Wildlife Trust has worked with volunteers in improving the site’s biodiversity. There have been over 70 practical sessions with volunteers helping remove invasive species from the site, manage the gorse path, wrestle with bramble, build ponds, dig trenches for trees, plant meadows, coppice the woodlands and much more. In addition, the ecology team alongside volunteers has undertaken various surveys across the site to monitor wildlife numbers and activity including bird nest recording, bird ringing, hedgehog surveys and also the Water for Wildlife surveys for dragonflies and damselflies. On the 7th July 2018, Walthamstow Wetlands and Walthamstow Marshes took part in the Stowe BioBlitz with 15 London Wildlife Trust volunteers helping to record 346 species of the 450 total recorded across the two reserves.

volunteering at walthamstow wetlands

With Thames Water, London Borough of Waltham Forest Council and London Wildlife Trust working in partnership, Walthamstow Wetlands has hosted a range of events and activities throughout the year for all ages and interests – some have been ticketed with proceeds invested back into the running of the Wetlands, the conservation work and continuing free public access to the site whilst others have been free of charge. From bat walks, swift talks and mammal workshops to floristry weekends, star gazing evenings and wildlife photography days, the year’s events programme has encouraged visitors to explore and discover the natural world around them. Events and workshops with charities and organisations such as YMCA, the council’s social prescribing team, MicroRainbow, a local Islamic young-persons group, TeenSeekers, and Age Concern have also provided an invaluable tool to engage with the local community and worthwhile causes.

Walthamstow Wetlands’ first year since opening has seen local schools and children benefit from a diverse and dynamic education programme – for example, 2,010 school children have visited the site, 2,496 children have enjoyed the under-5 sessions, 1,008 children have taken part in free holiday activities and 2,559 children have participated in the weekend drop-in sessions. Alongside these educational sessions, a Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) sensory garden is currently under construction to provide a safe and stimulating way for children to explore and enjoy Walthamstow Wetlands. The space, which is being created with the help of global construction firm Mace, will be fully wheelchair accessible in all seasons, with planting beds and interactive boxes at different heights to encourage interaction. It has also been designed with different sensory zones for touch, sight, taste, smell and sound.

As a Thames Water operational site supplying 3.5 million people daily with clean drinking water, an internationally important nature reserve with a SSSI-designation and a European SPA-designation as well as a 211 hectare open space with free public access, Walthamstow Wetlands has understandably faced challenges in balancing the various uses of the site. However with the dedication of the onsite team, increased numbers of staff and volunteers patrolling onsite as well as the thorough support of the partnership, the reserve has proved an invaluable resource for learning about conservation issues both local and global, while providing a much-needed space to connect to nature in the heart of a city and appreciate the importance of wetland habitats as a vital source of life for both people and wildlife.  

tufted duck at walthamstow wetlands

Cllr Clare Coghill, Leader of Waltham Forest Council, said: “Opening the marvellous wetlands up for residents and visitors to enjoy has been one of my top highlights in my time as Leader of the Council. Working with partners including London Wildlife Trust and Thames Water has been a pleasure as we have been able to protect some of the rare flora and fauna that call Europe’s largest urban wetlands home. Generations to come will be able to enjoy this superb haven of tranquillity just 15 minutes from central London. Access to a wonderful natural oasis like the Walthamstow Wetlands has huge benefits not just for the environment, but also for the health and wellbeing of visitors.”

Kirsty Halford, Community Projects Executive at Thames Water, said: “We’re delighted the first year at Walthamstow has been such a success. It’s been fantastic to see so many people appreciating the beauty of the wetlands while the reservoir continues to remain a vital resource for us in supplying millions of Londoners with high quality drinking water every day. As custodians of the environment, all of us at Thames Water are really pleased to see how it has developed into an oasis for wildlife that our customers can enjoy, and we look forward to welcoming visitors here for many years to come.”

bird watching at walthamstow wetlands

Gordon Scorer, CEO of London Wildlife Trust, said: “The opening of any large nature reserve, especially one in such a highly urbanised area, invariably brings challenges, but also wonderful opportunities. Over the last year, thousands of school children and visitors have discovered the amazing wildlife that can be found here, with engaging lessons, talks and walks. Many thousands more have enjoyed being able to experience these amazing reservoirs and wildlife-rich waterways. We all need nature in our lives, and the benefits of these internationally important Wetlands to local communities, as well as scarce and threatened wildlife, is immeasurable.”

Andy Smith, Thames Area Manager for Natural England, said: “Access to natural green space is vital for people’s wellbeing and for wildlife, so we are delighted at the success of Walthamstow Wetlands. The wetlands are a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Protection Area (SPA) of international importance as a home to rare waterfowl and migrating wild birds. The creation of this incredible urban nature reserve in our capital demonstrates what can be achieved when we work in partnership to balance the needs of the environment with the needs of people and the economy, to the benefit of all.”

For media enquiries, please contact Ada Crawshay Jones at Ada.Crawshay-Jones@walthamforest.gov.uk