‚Äú Address: Queen Elizabeth¬ís Walk / Barnes / London / SW13 9WT / England ‚Äě
My husband and I have been members of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) for many years and since we have had our daughters we have a family membership. This means that we can regularly visit the centres that are in distance of where we live - the nearest of which is the Wetland Centre in London. Since the weather was so good the other day we decided that it was a perfect place to visit.
The great thing about the Wetland Centre is that it will attract serious birdwatchers as well as families and both groups can be equally happy. It is located in Barnes and as soon as you get close it is very well signposted with the brown signs that are used for attractions. There is also the number 283 'Duck Bus' which goes direct to the centre from Hammersmith Station.
The centre is open every day (except Christmas Day) from 9.30 am to 6 pm in Summer, and from 9.30 am to 5 pm in Winter. It costs ¬£9.50 per adult and ¬£5.25 per child although you can get a family ticket for ¬£26.55 (two adults and two children) which does make a bit of a saving. However, if you choose to take out a family membership for ¬£60 you get unlimited visits over the year to any centre and you also receive the quarterly magazine. There are various categories for membership for singles, couples, families, etc. I think it's well worth taking out a membership and you are also helping to support all the conservation work of the WWT.
Anyway, back to the Wetland Centre. It actually covers 42 hectares and is apparently the best urban area in Europe to watch wildlife. I think the centre is incredibly well laid out and very attractive. There are some more organised areas such as the Wold Wetlands Area where you will see all sorts of ducks and wildfowl from around the world. This area is set out in continental areas and there are lots of information boards to let you know what you are seeing and facts about them.
Beyond this area you can enter the'Wildside'. This is an area of meadows and ponds linked by boardwalks and meandering paths. This is a more natural area and you will only see wildlife that is attracted to the area at the time. We were lucky to spot a pair of little grebes and their baby while we were there. It's a very natural and beautiful area and is also quite tranquil even with small children around!
There are also a number of large lakes with surrounding paths and overlooking hides where if you are lucky you will be able to see all manner of birds. At the visitor centre, there is a board where all the latest sightings are posted so you will always have an idea of anything a little bit unusual that you might be lucky enough to see. You can also look on the website to discover what has been seen recently. The hides are not really suitable for young children though, especially if they have a tendency to want to run about and be loud - like my two!
However, we were able to leave my husband eagerly looking out for birds in one of the hides and head on down to the fabulous Explore Playground! This was definitely the highlight of my daughters' trip. It's a fabulous place with underground tunnels, a zip wire and a climbing wall among other things. It is beautifully laid out and very exciting for children. It also provides ample seating and a small refreshment kiosk for parents who need to keep an eye on their young ones.
Children are catered for brilliantly at the Wetland Centre. Apart from the playground there is a small duck feeding area and a pond zone where they can pond dip and look at frog life cycles. When we arrived we were handed a leaflet outlining the timetable for all the children's activities which included the pond dipping, worm charming and soil surveying and various arts and crafts. It looked a lot of fun although did not fit into the timetable of our day. My daughters particularly enjoyed the Discovery Centre which had numerous water games but also made them think about water conservation and the dangers of flooding. There are also many interactive boards all around the site.
For young an old alike there are daily guided tours and also guides positioned in hides at various times of the day always prepared to share their vast knowledge. For all the details of what is on offer and especially about particular events, you can always visit the website at
If you are hungry there is always the Waters Edge Restaurant where you can either eat indoors or outdoors. We had lunch there and although it was very nice I did think it was quite expensive with meals and drinks for the four of us coming in at ¬£32! Hot meals were between ¬£6.50 and ¬£7.50 but they did do some irresistable cakes too. You can always take a picnic though if you don't want to pay the restaurant prices and there are spots scattered all over the site where you could quite happily sit and eat.
Overall this is a fabulous place to visit and I was really pleased to see how much my young daughters enjoyed their day. It was quite noticeable that although there were lots of young children, there were much fewer older ones and teenagers and I guess that this place does not lure them with all the thrills and spills they will get elsewhere.
I really recommend a visit to the Wetland Cente and also taking out a membership so that you can get the benefit of many trips. If we lived that little bit nearer, we would probably be there every weekend!
London Wetland Centre is one of the most extensive havens for birds and wildlife in Europe thanks to it's wide-ranging lakes, ponds and marshes that cover an area of 43 hectors.