Ada Crawshay-Jones looks back at a busy first year since Walthamstow Wetlands opened to the public
Here at Walthamstow Wetlands we have recently celebrated our one-year anniversary – and what a year it has been!
We have seen more than 415,000 visitors walk through the gates to spend time connecting with nature at our special water and wildlife haven – a rare opportunity in the capital. And we have had the pleasure of winning a number of awards, including ‘People’s Choice’ at the annual New London Architecture Awards and ‘Best Use of Heritage in Placemaking’ at The Planning Awards 2018.
Managing this site’s wildlife and enhancing the habitats of creatures great and small has kept our team busy. Staff from London Wildlife Trust, plus their dedicated volunteers, have been hard at work improving the site’s biodiversity, with 70 practical conservation days taking place. These have helped remove invasive species from the wetlands, manage the gorse path, tackle bramble growth, build ponds, dig trenches for trees, plant meadows, coppice the woodlands, and much more!
The ecology team has also played an invaluable role in undertaking various surveys across the site to monitor wildlife numbers and activity – they have spent long hours surveying hedgehogs, recording bird nests, ringing birds, and also identifying dragonflies and damselflies.
Many of the team also partook in a ‘bioblitz’ in July and helped record 346 species across Walthamstow Wetlands and Walthamstow Marshes, out of a total of 450 that are known to live there.
With Thames Water, Waltham Forest Council and London Wildlife Trust working in partnership, we have hosted a number of public events and activities throughout the year with the aim of encouraging visitors to explore and discover the natural world around them. From bat walks, swift talks and mammal workshops, to floristry weekends, star gazing evenings and wildlife photography days, there has always been something to do and something to learn.
Events and workshops with charities and organisations such as YMCA, the council’s social prescribing team, LGBT group MicroRainbow, Islamic youth group TeenSeekers, and older people’s charity Age UK, have also seen us work closely with worthwhile causes in the local community.
Since opening we have developed a diverse and dynamic education programme enjoyed by many schools and families. In the first year 2,010 schoolchildren have visited the site, 2,496 young children have enjoyed our under-five sessions, 1,008 children have taken part in free holiday activities, and 2,559 children have participated in weekend drop-in sessions.
Alongside these education sessions, we are currently building a Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) sensory garden with the help of London Wildlife Trust and construction firm Mace. The space will help children explore and enjoy the wonders of the wetlands in a safe and stimulating way. It will be fully wheelchair accessible in all seasons, with planting beds and interactive boxes at different heights. There will also be different sensory zones for touch, sight, taste, smell and sound.
By opening a large nature reserve in a highly urbanised area, we have of course faced challenges, especially with balancing the various uses of the wetlands. We are a Thames Water operational site supplying 3.5 million people daily with clean drinking water, as well as being an internationally important nature reserve, Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and 211-hectare open space with free public access.
But with the dedication of our team, increased numbers of staff and volunteers patrolling the site, and the thorough support of our partnership, the site does and will continue to provide wonderful opportunities for visitors to learn about conservation issues and appreciate the importance of wetland habitats as a place for both people and wildlife.
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