Summer at Walthamstow Wetlands continues to be a fantastic time of year to visit Europe’s largest urban wetland nature reserve. With a variety of birds to observe as they forage, fly and feed their young as well as stunning views across London and some much-needed respite from the daily hustle and bustle of the city, Walthamstow Wetlands has already attracted nearly 90,000 visitors over the recent summer months.
The summer began with an exciting new addition to the wildlife found at the Wetlands – a water vole has been spotted using the reed bed in front of the new Richard Wooley Bird Hide. Similar looking to the brown rat, but with a blunt nose, small ears and furry tail, visitors can look out for its burrows in the water banks, often with a nibbled 'lawn' of grass around the entrance. The water vole is under serious threat from habitat loss which makes the recent finding all the more welcoming.
As part of London Wildlife Trust’s continuing conservation efforts, staff and volunteers have also been conducting the first of the site’s reptile surveys. As a result of these surveys, a mating pair of grass snakes has been recorded and a further seven individuals have been found across the site. It is hoped that this population will be further boosted by hatchlings in August. Favouring wetland habitats, grass snakes are non-venomous and completely harmless to humans. They also have great defence strategies such as playing dead, false attacking and releasing a garlic-like scent from their vents. Slowly but surely, the team at the Wetlands are growing their understanding of how reptiles use the site and which areas are key focal points of activity. Those visitors keen to catch a glimpse of a grass snake, are advised to arrive first thing when the site opens at 9.30am and keep an eye out on rocky outcrops in the sun where reptiles such as grass snakes and the common lizard can be seen happily absorbing the sun’s rays.
Warm weather has seen a variety of colourful and beautiful butterflies at Walthamstow Wetlands. In order to monitor numbers and record site-specific data, the London Wildlife Trust team have been conducting weekly butterfly counts as part of the UKBMS (United Kingdom Butterfly Monitoring Scheme). These recordings have shown a mass wave of migrating painted lady butterflies - an unmistakeable butterfly which is found mainly in open and flowery places onsite and spends much of its time basking on the ground. There has also been a noted increase in marbled white butterflies which can be seen flapping slowly in the sun and feeding and basking on knapweeds and scabiouses. In total, there have been 24 butterfly species recorded onsite thus far this summer, highlighting the Wetlands as an important site for breeding and migrating butterflies.
The annual ringing of heron and little egret chicks took place in April and there were still new broods of both species in late June, suggesting that conditions had been favourable for a long breeding season this year. Ringing chicks is a useful method for tracking bird movements and behaviour – for example a little egret ringed at Walthamstow Wetlands was spotted in spring moving around the Peak District, highlighting the importance of Walthamstow Wetlands as a juvenile ringing site. A breeding pair of peregrine falcons has also hatched four chicks from a site nearby - although some of these chicks have now fledged, visitors can often still see and hear the two remaining noisy youngsters on the pylons. Further examples of this summer’s successful breeding onsite include the first – for at least 10 years – brood of gadwall chicks, whilst a breeding pair of sand martins has also been observed rearing their young onsite. As a result of the latter, London Wildlife Trust are currently in talks with Thames Water to design a sand martin bank onsite that could see 55 holes for next year.
The annual tufted duck moult is well underway at Walthamstow Wetlands – with over 2,255 tufted ducks counted so far. Tufted ducks gather each year to replace their flight feathers and as a result become flightless for some time. They choose the Wetlands as it has the necessary food resources and provides safety from predators. It is these annual aggregations that give Walthamstow Wetlands its SSSI designation and it is also the reason why the path next to reservoirs 4&5 is currently closed so that these tufted ducks can enjoy a safe and peaceful space to moult their feathers.
There is still plenty of time to enjoy the wonders of summer at Walthamstow Wetlands. From free children’s activities taking place throughout the week to free guided walks for adults every Thursday at 11am, visitors can discover and explore the wonderful nature on their London doorstep and learn more about why the Wetlands are a unique habitat for wildlife great and small.
Cllr Paul Douglas, Cabinet Member for Culture, said: “It’s been another wonderful summer at the Walthamstow Wetlands – it’s a real pleasure to see so many fascinating animals in this natural gem right here in our corner of north-east London. I’m also delighted that so many young people have been able to enjoy the Wetlands and learn about our environment over the holidays. By educating them about the importance of the natural world we can nurture a new generation to take care of our planet and its flora and fauna.”