diamond geezer

 Saturday, February 04, 2006

  the definitive DG guide to London's sights-worth-seeing
  Part 5: London Wetland Centre

Location: Queen Elizabeth's Walk, Barnes, SW13 9SA [map]
Open: 9.30am - 6pm (closes 5pm in Winter)
Admission: £6.75
5-word summary: reclaimed reservoirs, now waterfowl airport
Website: www.wwt.org.uk/visit/wetlandcentre
Time to set aside: at least an afternoon

What do you do with four unwanted reservoirs? You grab a lottery handout and transform them into one hundred acres of reclaimed wetland habitat, that's what. And you do it with natural style. And then you wait for the wildlife to arrive.

You fly into the London Wetland Centre following the northern Heathrow flightpath... but only if you're a bird. Down there, inside the great Boat-Race curve of the Thames, see those giant interlinked lagoons, that's where you touch down. Maybe out there in the reedbeds, or over on that grassy islet, or perhaps just an ostentatious spashdown in the middle of the shining lake. Just don't expect to get any privacy, because there are humans lurking out of sight at the water's edge, and their binoculars are enormous.

Visitors start their undercover surveillance operation at the visitor centre in the southwest corner. There's a briefing video in the mini cinema, and also an observation gallery (and telescope shop) in the building opposite. From here you can head north to view the 'World Wetlands' exhibit, featuring recreated habitats from peat swamp to paddy field. The ducks I saw may have been indigenous, but I suspect the flocks of hungry pigeons were just chancing their luck. Further north are the weaving paths of the 'Wildside' - where I stopped amongst the reedbeds to watch a solitary heron munching determinedly on a tasty wriggling water vole. Out east you'll find the sustainable water gardens, presumably rather more impressive in the summer when the ponds aren't iced over. And there are also several wooden hides, one of them three storeys high, with a commanding view over the surrounding lakeland. Here the twitchers hide themselves away with their packed lunch and a giant lens, peering out of the narrow windows and zooming in on migrating waterfowl. Last weekend (according to the chalkboard) the wintering birds included shelduck, bittern and snipe, although to my untrained eye they all just looked like ducks.

It is quite frankly astonishing that such an expansive ornitholgical paradise should exist within Central London (Zone 2). The London Wetland Centre makes for a great green day out, not just for the hand-knitted brigade but also for outdoor couples and open-minded kids. Just wait for a sunny day, and remember to take your very best industrial strength eyeglasses. But go soon, before bird flu arrives and they have to slaughter the entire breeding stock.
by tube: Hammersmith  by 'duck bus': 283

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