The London Wetland Centre is a wetland reserve managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust on the banks of the River Thames in London. The site covers around 100 acres of land that is made up of four disused Victorian reservoirs. The reservoirs were converted to a wildlife habitat that was designated as a SSSI in 2002. This was the first urban nature project of its kind in the UK. It was featured on the BBC television programme ‘Seven Natural Wonders’ as one of the wonders of the London area.
The Centre is now home to an amazing array of birds including bittern, lapwings, jays, cormorants, herons, collared doves, tufted ducks, peregrine falcons, oystercatchers, and parakeets. The Centre also has a number of captive wildfowl from around the world, and even a pair of Asian small-clawed otters. We recommend getting out into the open wetland areas and taking the (excellently named) ‘Wildside trail’ to explore the marshes. It’s a fantastic place to forget that you’re in the middle of one of the world’s busiest cities, and spend some time connecting with the natural world.
Average rating: 4.3 (very good)
Average cost: admission is $20 for adults and free for children. There is a cafe where you can buy food and drink, as well as a gift shop.
Best time to visit: there is something to see year-round – our favourite time is looking for bitterns in Autumn and Winter. During the Spring it’s a great place to spot nesting sand martins.
How to get there: the Centre is around 15 mins walk from Barnes train station or you can get a bus, drive, or cycle. There’s a good guide to getting to the Centre here.
Typical activities: bird watching
Number of reports: 3
Last updated: 2022
WILDLIFE IN London Wetland Centre
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the top ten most popular species that can be seen here are:
#1 Bittern – 0% OF WildSide Users (0/3) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The star of the London Wetland Centre is the Eurasian (or great) bittern. One of the UK’s rarest breeding birds, the bittern population was only around 11 males in 1997. Thanks to the hard work of conservation organisations, the bittern is now back from the brink of extinction. And in 2017, there were 164 males booming from the UK’s reedbeds.
Bitterns are notoriously difficult to spot thanks to their incredible camouflage which allows them to hide silently in the reeds. The best way to find them is usually to pick a still day in the Spring and wait to hear their booming calls. In the London Wetland Centre, however, the bitterns usually arrive mid-October and only stay for Winter before returning to Europe, so the sounds of the booming calls are rare. Nevertheless, thanks to its small size, accessibility, and regular population of around five birds returning each year, the Centre in Winter is one of the best places in the UK to look out for these fascinating and elusive birds.
#2 collared dove – 0% of wildside users (0/3) reported sightings
The Eurasian collared dove is a regular breeder at the London Wetland Centre. While often overlooked, these small pigeons are beautiful birds. Collared doves feed on seeds and grains on the ground and are usually seen alone or in pairs. You can distinguish them from regular pigeons, larger wood pigeons, and rarer turtle doves by their buff coloured feathers and black collar around their necks. You can also listen out for their familiar ‘hoo hoooo-hoo’ call.
#3 Lapwing – 67% OF WildSide Users (2/3) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The London Wetland Centre is home to a large population of Northern lapwings (or peewits), and they are easy to spot from the hides and trails year-round. They are unmistakable birds thanks to their beautiful iridescent feathers and tufted heads. You can also listen out for their distinctive ‘peewit’ calls which give them their other name. In Winter you may be lucky enough to see large flocks of these beautiful birds wheeling together through the skies above the Centre. Males put on dramatic aerial displays, tumbling through the air and crying out with their piercing calls. While females can be spotted on their nests, which are usually scrapes in the mud or sand.
#4 peregrine falcon – 0% of wildside users (0/3) reported sightings
Peregrine falcons breed in the surrounding area and sometimes can be spotted at the Centre. There is a regular nest on top of the Charing Cross hospital in Hammersmith, just on the other side of the river Thames. The falcons use the surrounding area, including the Centre, for hunting. The peregrines of Fulham and Barnes have become minor celebrities in London, and you can keep up to date with their movements via Twitter, Facebook, this blog, or even their own website! If you want to spot one your best chances are heading over to the hospital to take a look for the nest.
#5 Tufted duck – 100% of wildside users (3/3) reported sightings
Tufted ducks are one of the most common diving ducks in the UK. They make their homes in flooded gravel pits, lakes, and reservoirs like the London Wetland Centre. They are easy to spot year-round at the Centre, usually swimming on the water or diving down to feed on waterweed, plant seeds, and insects. You can’t miss tufted ducks thanks to their funky hair-dos, black and white colouring, and yellow eyes. There is a good guide to the UK’s ducks here.
#6 eurasian jay – 33% OF WildSide Users (1/3) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Jays are beautifully coloured members of the crow family. They are easily recognised by the brilliant blue feathers on their wings. Unlike crows and magpies, they are shy birds. So look out for a flash of white and blue and a screaming call as they fly between the trees. The best time to see them is Autumn when they move about the trees looking for food. During this time they are easy to spot hunting for acorns which they store in their favourite hiding places to provide a source of food for Winter. They live in both coniferous and deciduous woodland, especially where there are oak trees. Head to the tree-covered areas of the Centre to spot (or more likely hear) jays!
#7 great cormorant – 67% OF WildSide Users (2/3) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Great cormorants are commonly found around the UK’s rocky coastline – which supports internationally important populations of this species – although they are increasingly being found inland. They are around the size of a goose with large bodies and long thin necks. Adults are black, with white on their faces and thighs. Cormorants are regular visitors to the pools and wetlands at the Centre. They are most easily spotted when sitting perched on a log or rock, stretching out their wings to dry in the sun.
#8 grey heron – 100% OF WildSide Users (3/3) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Grey herons are large, unmistakeably graceful birds with long slender necks and legs. They are wetland birds and are commonly found in the wetlands and pools in and around the Centre. They overwinter in the UK so you can spot them year-round. Herons are most often seen stood as still as statues in the shallower edges of lakes or ponds, patiently waiting for their next meal to swim by. As with other wetland birds, the hides at the Centre are a good place to spot herons. They are usually quite abundant and you can often see 4 or 5 of these fantastic birds.
#9 oystercatcher – 33% of wildside users (1/3) reported sightings
Oystercatchers are large black and white wading birds, with long red bills and pink legs. They breed along the coasts of the UK and have started to breed inland in the last 50 years. In coastal areas, you will likely see them searching for mussels and cockles to eat, while inland they mainly eat worms. Although the Reserve doesn’t support large numbers of oystercatchers, keep your eyes peeled and you may see one stood on an island in Main Lake.
#10 ring necked parakeet – 33% OF WildSide Users (1/3) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
One bird that you’re likely to hear before you see is the ring necked parakeet. These are noisy, raucous, squawking creatures. And they aren’t shy! Chances are you’ll see or hear these colourful characters as soon as you set foot in the Centre. They are called ‘ring necks’ because the adults have a dark circle around the backs of their necks. They are perfectly at home in the area and can be seen flying around the visitor centre entrance. There are various stories about how parakeets ended up in England, but they seem to quite like it here, even though their native range is tropical!
Photo credit: WildSide team member Chris White