Winter is a fantastic time to visit Walthamstow Wetlands. From overwintering water fowl and rare migrant stopovers, to an exciting and educational events programme including floristry workshops and Wild Weekends for the family with London Wildlife Trust, there are plenty of reasons to explore this water and wildlife oasis on your London doorstep.
Late autumn proved a spectacular month for birdwatching with avocet, pintail, Slavonian grebe, red breasted merganser and a black throated diver – the first since 1966 – all visiting the Wetlands. Although these birds were only on site for a short stopover, winter still promises an array of birds to discover. Walthamstow Wetlands is especially noted for its breeding grey heron, cormorant and little egret as well as overwintering waterfowl – visitors will be able to see an increase in numbers of shoveler, gadwall and pochard ducks returning to the reserve for the colder months. Visitors can enjoy seeing shoveler use their spoon-like bills to sift for small invertebrates and plant material from the surface of the water – they can even sometimes be seen feeding in circles stirring the water up further. Large numbers of tufted duck can also still be seen on site – occasionally forming large rafts of black & white bobbing ducks amongst the swell. It is always worth having a closer look at the tufted duck flocks as there is sometimes a scaup or goldeneye to be seen amongst them. The numbers of over-wintering tufted ducks are usually nationally significant and one of the reasons why Walthamstow Wetlands is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Little Egrets at Walthamstow Wetlands
Heron at Walthamstow Wetlands
The little egret numbers are once again starting to rise and can often be seen standing in trees on the reservoir islands. Ringing took place of little egret chicks onsite as part of ongoing ecology work conducted by London Wildlife Trust and there have already been reports of these ringed birds being seen across the country - highlighting how important Walthamstow Wetlands is as a breeding site for this species of bird across the south-east. In winter the island on Reservoir 1 becomes home to one of the largest heronries in London. Breeding begins for grey herons in February and chicks will fledge in late spring - these leggy chicks can occasionally be seen through a telescope from March onwards. Smaller birds like goldfinches and long-tailed tits can also be seen currently forming colourful flocks of more than 15 birds.
At Walthamstow Wetlands, conservation work led by London Wildlife Trust and their volunteers plays an important role in enhancing current habitats and also creating new ones – all of which strengthens the site’s biodiversity interest. This winter, the team is hoping to enhance the diversity of bankside vegetation. In order to do this, a number of sycamore trees will be removed to allow more light to the banks and encourage a diversity of plant species to flourish in that area. In doing so, the new vegetation should support a wider variety of insects, small mammals and birds. Sycamore tree is the site’s second most abundant tree species and while it has an important ecological role, its dominance at the water’s edge needs to be carefully managed.
Throughout winter, there will be a number of volunteering opportunities to help support Walthamstow Wetlands. Volunteers can join conservation work days to assist with tree felling and creating log piles for invertebrates, reptiles and small mammals to refuge in throughout the year. Volunteers can also take part in a ‘bramble bash’ along the Coppermill Stream – the ‘bramble bash’ encourages other vegetation such as sedges to grow, diversifying the feeding options for water voles and thereby hopefully improving the site’s suitability for these declining mammals. For more information on volunteering opportunities, please visit the website.
The New Year brings with it a new events programme for visitors of all ages and interests to enjoy. From wildlife photography with Iain Green and ceramic coaster making workshops with The Wonders of Clay, to indoor garden making workshops with Borrowed Light Floral Studio and wildlife drawing with Jennie Webber, the events are suitable for beginners as well as those who would like to further hone their skills. All proceeds from these ticketed events are invested back into the running of Walthamstow Wetlands, the conservation work and continuing free public access to the Wetlands. For more information on the events programme, please visit the website.
Great Tit at Walthamstow Wetlands
Goldfinch at Walthamstow Wetlands
Winter is a special time to visit Europe’s largest urban wetlands. As well as providing peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of city living, Walthamstow Wetlands is a wonderful resource for the community and Londoners from further afield, to explore and learn about the history and wildlife of a unique nature reserve in the heart of Waltham Forest.
Cllr Paul Douglas, Junior Cabinet Member for Culture at Waltham Forest Council, said: “Since the Wetlands opened in October 2017, thousands of visitors have taken the opportunity to enjoy this urban oasis – a haven of tranquillity and calm in this bustling corner of north-east London. During winter a variety of bird species shelter here. It’s a great opportunity to see these seasonal visitors and perhaps enjoy a warm beverage in the relaxing café. It’s been a pleasure working with London Wildlife Trust, Thames Water, and the Heritage Lottery Fund to create the Walthamstow Wetlands. As we prepare to launch our year of celebration as London’s first Borough of Culture there’s never been a better time to visit Europe’s largest urban wetlands right here in Waltham Forest.”