November 29, 2014
An urban oasis: London Wetland Centre
It has been commented that I am slightly spoilt. Living a stone's throw away from an area of natural beauty, I am able to walk out of my front gate into Britain's largest protected wetland. So when I visited London Wetland Centre, heralded as the UK's favorite nature reserve, I was naturally expecting great things. However, I couldn't hide my immediate disappointment, as I followed a steady procession of pushchairs round a series of manicured paths and fenced off enclosures housing all manor of exotic fowl. I had in my mind an urban oasis, a world of green tangle hidden away from London's concrete jungle where wildlife roamed freely. And with good cause too - I'd seen poster after advert on the underground indicating an Eden-like paradise where otters splashed about the countless channels and streams. In reality, it's rather tame as far as wildlife spotting is concerned. The otters are not really wild, instead housed in an enclosure complete with glass windows and man-made waterfall. I skipped the 2pm feeding time, I'll leave that for when I visit Chessington. The other fundamental drawback is that even the 'wild' wetland area away from the enclosures can only be accessed during opening times, which are a pedestrian 0930 to 1700, during which most of the more exciting and rare wildlife will be bedded down. There are plenty of positives to speak of though in terms of conservation. This expanse of wetland in one of the busiest cities in the world provides an important habitat for a variety of truly wild species, including the rare and very secretive bittern. There are also a number of birds of prey, including the peregrine falcon which nest in the derelict wing of the Charing Cross Hospital across the river.Perhaps my visit on a sunny Saturday didn't help in terms of solitary wildlife spotting, although just as I was beginning to resign my self to a gentle and uneventful amble around the grounds, I noticed a few people gathered round a wooden bridge over one of the dykes, and they were inspecting two lizards, the common variety, sunning themselves. My skepticism lead me to believe that these had been planted there as part of some sort of science experiment by a visiting school. They were tame enough for me to get away a few shots with my macro lens. I have never seen common lizards up this close, if at all, before. I think I'll revisit in the colder months when there are fewer people and the bitterns have arrived.