A bustling metropolitan city like London
may not be the first place you think of when it comes to birdwatching, but with more than 300 species of bird having been recorded, you might be surprised. From the new Olympic Park
to the UK’s
favourite nature reserve, London boasts a growing number of wetlands — wide open spaces of lush, water-logged grass bordering nutrient rich waters which are among the most productive ecosystems in the world — providing a haven for wildlife across the spectrum. Here we’ve compiled a list of some of the best, most tranquil wetlands in the city in which to make your escape from the urban chaos, where birds of all shapes and sizes from around the world make their homes throughout the year.
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
From polluted canals filled with shopping trolleys and cars to an idyllic, inner-city haven for wildlife and their admirers, Stratford and the lower Lea Valley’s waterways have been given a new lease of life by the Olympic Park. While manicured gardens dominate the south, a large wetland bowl has been carved into the north of the Park around the River Lea, collecting rainwater and encouraging natural flooding to sustain the 300,000 wetland plants and hundreds of species of birds that live here. The park is filled with 525 bird boxes with numerous watery alcoves set off from the main river, providing homes for kingfishers, sparrows, swifts, starlings, black redstarts, and house martins.
London E20 2ST, +44 800 072 2110
Wetlands in the Olympic Park, London|©Peter O’Connor/Flickr
London Wetland Centre
Chosen as the UK’s favourite nature reserve by the public for the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards 2012, this 105 acre nature reserve formed from four disused Victorian reservoirs is teeming with birds from around the world (180 species throughout the year), including many that can’t be found anywhere else in London. The centre was opened in 2000 by Sir David Attenborough, who said that it was ‘the ideal model for how humankind and the natural world may live side by side in the 21st century’. There are numerous hides for birdwatching or photography, or a heated, two-storey conservatory from which to spot the vast population, which includes wading birds like redshank and lapwing, warblers such as Cetti’s and sedge warblers, as well as kingfishers, sand martins, bitterns, sparrow hawks, grebes, and many more.
Queen Elizabeth’s Walk, Barnes, London SW13 9WT, +44 20 8409 4400
A bittern at London Wetlands Centre|©Gary Gray/London Wetland Centre
Casting a vivid contrast with the built up area surrounding it, this 17 hectare reserve and reservoir in between Stoke Newington and Manor House was opened in May this year after being closed to public access for almost 200 years. A network of reed-ringed ponds and waterways connect the reservoir with wildflower meadows, clumps of fruit trees, and hedgerows, providing homes for both resident and migratory species including kestrels, reed warblers, heron, snipes, great crested grebes, and a variety of waterfowl.
Lordship Road, New River Path, London N16 5HQ, +44 20 8802 4573
Made up of three main areas — Clendish Marsh, Wild Marsh West, and Wild Marsh East — this 100-acre stretch of the Lee Valley Park is in an ancient floodplain, and is one of Greater London’s last remaining examples of semi-natural wetland, having once been true marshland over a thousand years ago before human habitations began to make an impact. Made up primarily of wild grass with areas of trees and scrub, the Marshes are home to a variety of bird species including woodpeckers, tits, short-eared owls, peregrine falcon, kingfishers, and kestrels.
Watermead Way, London N17 0XD, +44 845 677 0600
Aside from its rich wildlife. The Walthamstow Marshes also nurse an interesting history — in 1909 they were the site of the first all-British powered flight, when the aero-designer Alliot Verdon Roe flew above them. The 37 hectare, Green Flag Award-winning reserve is one of London’s last pieces of once widespread river valley grasslands, and is home to the incredibly rare Creeping Marshwort, a tiny white flower which grows on the border of grazed ditches and which is only found at two other sites in Oxfordshire. Species of bird to look out for include buzzards, sparrowhawk, heron, and yellow wagtail. The Walthamstow Reservoir at the north of the marsh is currently undergoing an £8.7 million transformation into the Walthamstow Wetlands, a 211-hectare site billed as ‘unprecedented in size in London’, due to open in 2017.
Lea Bridge Road, Leyton, London, E10 7QL, +44 3000 030 610