London bucket lists simply never end. The city is so busy and vibrant that no sooner that you’ve ticked something off, several more dance their wicked way onto the lineup. Sitting on that list for far too long were plans to visit (always seeming to fall a-fowl (sorry) of something else) the luscious lilypads of Barnes Wildfowl and Wetland Centre.
Fast-foward to a conversation mid-last week at To Kill a Mockingbird
(ironically enough) with my partner-in-blog-crime Ngaire, and we found
ourselves on a sunny Saturday morning sauntering around pathways
criss-crossing the reserve.
Two Kiwi birds, looking at more birds (with a few new blog friends).
The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) is a conservation charity that
saves wetlands, which are essential for life itself. Wetlands are the
primary source of drinking water for people and wildlife. They also
connect us with nature, and with ourselves, through beautiful landscapes
and inspiring encounters with wildlife.
Barnes’ 42 hectare site is a wildlife oasis among London’s suburbia. As the
planes fade away towards Heathrow, listen for the wind through the
rushes that are homes for nationally important populations of gadwall
and grebes. Also listen for the boom of the regular bittern visitors.
It’s one of the southeast’s top locations for bats, marsh frogs and
Peter Scott was the son of Antarctic explorer Captain Scott who, in his
dying letter, urged Peter’s mother to “make the boy interested in
natural history”. Peter particularly loved the wild open marshes of Britain and the
mysterious geese that visited from unknown shores. He started as a
wildfowler but learned to protect first the birds, and then their
wetland habitats. In 1946 he set up the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge as a
centre for science and conservation. Uniquely at the time, he opened it
to the public so that anyone could enjoy getting close to nature.
Our naughty sub-guide for the day… I’m really not sure she’s meant to be there!
We also had an alternative reason for being there: to try out the cameras on Samsung S5 smartphones and push them to their blogging limits. I
have a guilty blogging secret to fess up to – I don’t own a
camera, no DSLR, not even a point-and-shoot. Having lost it in Orlando airport last year, I blogged with my
Samsung S2 for nearly a year, before upgrading to the S4 this year. Mr
Kiwi has an S5 and loves it. I try and get my sticky mitts on his phone as often as I can…
Escorted along the paths by Phil, volunteering in the center for c.16
years was an eye opener. He treated us to so many fascinating facts about the
ecosystem, the carefully looked after plethora of wildfowl, animal inhabitants and
incredible conservation work being carried out to save at risk and
endangered animal species.
We mostly listened in awe at his passion, cooed over the ducks and photographed anything that moved. If pushed to pick just one, my favorite photo of the day has to be this one, staring through the lens of Phil’s telescope at a rather amused looking frog. You have to have a super steady hand to do this, but the results can be amazing.
…or perhaps this one, a wee insect no more than an inch long in body, just minding his own business, sunning himself.
We snuck into one of the many hides, quietly giggling at silly jokes about ‘twitching tweeters’ and enjoyed the views over the reclaimed marshland. I personally can’t sit still for more than about 30 seconds, so take my hat off to the bird-fascinated enthusiasts who sit for hours just to catch sight of a rare bird, also aiming for beautiful images of these wild creatures, none of whom like to pose.
Arriving back near the entrance to the centre just in time, we watched the local family of otters inhale their afternoon feed. Those guys are divine, but can move like furry little sharks; on land and sea.
I already want to return, having only seen a teeny taste (though we were there for nearly 3 hours – I can see how a visit could easily take the entire day). Just down the road (for the music enthusiasts of course) is the Marc Bolan memorial shrine – infamous for his tunes “Get It On” and “Ride a White Swan” (!) – set up by mourning 70’s pop music fans, at the base of the tree where he sadly met his James Dean-esque demise in the prime of his life 37 years ago.
The Barnes Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre are a charity body making a real difference to the local and international wildfowl populations, whilst displaying their inhabitants with a lovely humourous flare.
Have you been yet or is it lurking on that London to-do list?