Enjoying London’s Biodiversity

Part Three. Woodberry Wetlands, Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park

2 MARCH 2017,
London Wetland © Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne
London Wetland © Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne

In the third part of this four-part series, I continue by mentioning a few more of London’s many nature reserves and I also provide other useful details for those who wish to enjoy London’s biodiversity. As my thoughts and site selections are based on branding and developing London as a wildlife destination by commercial tour operators, it will be helpful to read the first two parts first for context.

Woodberry Wetlands

Woodberry Wetlands is one of a pair of reservoirs which has been converted to a wetland with reedbeds planted on the edges and islands created in the middle for resting and breeding waterfowl and other birds. The other adjoining reservoir is used for boating. In summer, Reed Warblers are active and sing from just a few feet away from the boardwalk. Cetti’s Warbler is also heard. The usual waterbirds as well as species such as Shelduck which would not normally be seen within such a densely occupied part of London can be seen here.

Access: Open from 9.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. Entrance free.

Facilities: There is a café with toilets but it closes an hour earlier than the reserve. The West Reservoir is used for sailing and also has a café.

Getting There: The wetland is just under a 10 minute walk from Manor House tube station which is on the Piccadilly Line. There is an entrance from the Lordship Road side and also from Bethune Road to the East Reservoir which is now branded as the Woodberry Wetland. The walk from one entrance to the other along the reservoir can be done in 10 minutes. There is no complete circular route around the reservoir. There is a small strip of land between the reservoir and the perimeter through which a woodland trail has been placed. The site has a number of Oak trees which provide a habitat for woodland birds. There is no doubt that this site will result in a number of interesting birding records with around 40 species possible on a good day.

For wildlife photographers this is unlikely to be as rewarding as my three top sites. But I think this will be a very important site in bringing people close to nature. It is smack bang in one of the most densely populated parts of London, is free and its courses from introductory bird watching to wild yoga are a sell-out. The natural reedbeds, the presence of informed volunteer nature guides, the focus in providing a managed nature reserve to city dwellers are all examples of how London is leading as a city that is bringing wildlife to city dwellers.

Hampstead Heath

A free entry public space with multiple access points in the north of London. Heavily visited. Easy to access from stations such as Hampstead (on Northern line) and Hampstead Heath (on London Overground). Some wildlife photographers have commented to me that the animals are habituated allowing good photography. However, I find this to be also the case with sites such as the London Wetland Centre which is preferable for bird photographers with its network of hides. Hampstead Heath does not have bird hides and is managed primarily as a public space and not as a nature reserve. Unlike the reserves managed by the RSPB, LWT and WWT, people are free to bring their pets.

Although bird photographers may find my top three sites more productive, all-round nature photographers may find more subject matter in Hampstead Heath because it has old woodland and extensive areas of grassland. It will have a richer flora than the other three sites and also have a wider selection of invertebrate species. Although its primary purpose is not to be managed as a nature reserve, it is clearly one of the most important biodiversity sites in London which is also rich in history.

Richmond Park

Richmond Park is one of two National Nature Reserves (the other is Ruislip Woods) in the South-west of London. Wildlife photographers come here to photograph Red Deer in rut. Keep your distance; every year people are injured by deer. A free entry public space with multiple access points. It can be reached easily by taking the tube to Richmond (District line) and walking. Heavily visited with vehicles driving through. No bird hides. Unlike at the reserves managed by the RSPB, LWT and WWT, people are free to bring their pets. As with Hampstead Heath, the presence of old woodland and extensive grassland results in a very rich flora and a diversity of invertebrates. In this respect, it surpasses my top three sites. But note that my ‘Top Three Sites’ are based not only on the species richness but also the overall facilities and orientation to birders and wildlife photographers for wildlife tourism.

Useful Organisations

Visitors to London should check the social media of the following organisations for useful pointers. Also look at their programmes on their websites for guided walks and coach trips. Coach trips are run at cost and most nature walks are free. Most of the organisations charge a small donation at the door for attending a talk. Non-members are welcome.

The local walks organised by the LNHS, LWT, the Central London Local Group of the RSPB and the Marlyebone Birdwatching Society will introduce you to a wealth of wildlife watching sites for Londoners varying from the Lea Valley Regional Park to Tooting Common. Mature woodlands with Little Owls can be found in seemingly unlikely London boroughs if you go with the right people. It is worth inspecting the programmes of the organisations listed below. The LNHS website also has a large listing of nature organisations with a national or London-centric focus.

For more information:
London Natural History Society
London Wildlife Trust
Marylebone Birdwatching Society
Central London Local Group RSPB

Mobile Apps
If you are an overseas visitor, bring a smartphone and buy a local SIM with voice and data. Being able to use Google Maps will make it a lot easier to find your way to nature reserves as they are not as well known as the cultural tourist attractions.

Getting around
A free App like City Mapper is very useful as it helps with bus routes and other public transport. The Trainline app is useful for checking on trains to sites like Rye Meads and Rainham Marshes. The London Underground map is available as a free app and does not need signal to view it once downloaded.

Submitting records
If you would like to contribute your natural history records, smartphone apps such as BirdTrack and iRecord make it very easy.

Continues on the 17 of March...

Read also Part One and Part Two