The London Wetland Centre is a nature reserve in Barnes comprised of four disused reservoirs that have become home to many species of birds rarely seen in London.
- Watch the centre’s resident Asian short-clawed otters enjoy their twice-daily feeds, as well as laugh at their antics and pebble-juggling (yes, really)
- Snuggle up with a pair of binoculars in one of the centre’s six hides or in the observatory and do some serious wildlife watching
- Brave the centre’s Wild Walk, which lets visitors explore areas of the wetland that are usually off-limits by using a wobbly rope bridge and balancing logs
What to see and do
Walk through wildlife gardens
Stroll through the Rain Garden and the Slate Garden, where you’ll see stunning wildflowers, reeds, grasses and beautiful walkways. There’s also lots of bug hotels, dragonflies, butterflies and even lizards if you tread quietly.
Climb the two-storey observatory for a panoramic view
The observatory is heated and has floor-to-ceiling windows and fixed telescopes so you can see all over the wetlands. There are more than 200 species of birds living in and around the centre, including hobbies, oystercatchers, Eurasian sparrowhawks and ring-necked parakeets.
Head to the Discovery Centre to learn about wetlands
The Discovery Centre offers younger children the opportunity to explore and learn more about wetlands and the role they play in the natural world and the urban and rural water cycles. Young conservationists can tackle puzzles and problems, as well as learn how to save water at home.
Enjoy your own feeding time
The centre has its Kingfisher Kitchen and the Water’s Edge café and both places are family-friendly. The Kingfisher Kitchen offers fairly cheap kids’ meals like macaroni cheese and traditional meals like bangers and mash for adults. There’s also a coffee kiosk near to the main entrance, as well as lots of picnic spots for al fresco dining with stunning views.
Did you know? (5 Interesting Facts)
- During the development of the wetland site in the late 1990s, workers found an unexploded World War II bomb and needed the services of a bomb disposal unit.
- A pair of ringed plovers also halted the works when they decided to nest perilously near to the bulldozer routes!
- Between 1995 and 2000, more than 300,000 water plants and 27,000 trees were planted on the 105-acre site.
- In the first decade since its opening in May 2000, the number of bird species has increased from 132 to 161 and there are now more than 220 different types of birds calling the wetland home.
- The founder of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Sir Peter Scott (1909-1989) was the son of the explorer Scott of the Antarctic. His father, in his last letter home from the ill-fated South Pole expedition, urged his wife to make their son interested in natural history.
- 1995: The four disused Victorian Barn Elms reservoirs were bought by Berkeley Homes and Thames Water and work began on transforming the site into a wildlife reserve.
- 2000: The centre opened on May 26 and became the first urban wetland project of its kind in the UK.
- 2001: The centre started a monitored reintroduction of water voles, one of the UK’s most endangered mammals, and the population has expanded throughout the site.
- 2002: An area of 74 acres within the centre was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) after the numbers of over-wintering shoveler ducks and gadwalls grew to become nationally significant.
- 2005: The centre – and its ring-necked parakeets – was featured in an episode, presented by Bill Oddie, of the BBC show Seven Natural Wonders.
- 2012: Readers of the BBC Countryfile Magazine voted the centre Britain’s Favourite Nature Reserve.
Facilities and accessibility
The London Wetland Centre is wheelchair accessible; the two-storey observatory and the three-storey Peacock Tower have lifts. There are manual wheelchairs available, as well as mobility scooters (for a suggested donation of £5.00).
Pushchairs are also welcome in and around the centre, as are assistance and guide dogs.
Some gates and doors are heavy, but there’s a team of roaming volunteers ready to help out with these, as well as with any other needs you may have during your visit.
The toilets in the car park and visitor centre are accessible and the Headley Hide has a wide turning circle and a 78cm-wide door.
You can eat in at the Kingfisher Kitchen or grab some food and drinks to go; the centre has a number of picnic spots and some covered areas in case of sudden downpours.
The centre’s gift shop has a wide variety of gifts and souvenirs, as well as educational books and other resources.
The nearest train station is Barnes and from there it’s a 15-minute walk.
The nearest tube is Hammersmith (Piccadilly and District & Circle Lines). From there it’s a 10 to 15-minute walk over Hammersmith Bridge, followed by a five-minute bus ride (209/33/419/533/485) to the Red Lion pub, which is just 150 metres from the centre.