Our Favourite UK Wetlands To Visit
Our Wetlands are some of our most ecologically important and awe-inspiring landscapes – wide open spaces where you can experience the spectacle and restorative power of nature. If forests are the lungs of the planet, then wetlands are its lifeblood. Teeming with biodiversity, they are a lifeline for many of our endangered species and their natural infrastructure also provide essential protection against environmental issues like flooding, drought and pollution.
They’re also brilliant places to visit all year round, whatever the weather. Check out our guide to 10 wetland activities you can do with the kids. We’ve picked out some of our favourite UK Wetland sites and some activities you can enjoy on your visits to these wild and vital landscapes.
These 100 acres of wetland paradise on the banks of the Severn Estuary see up to 30,000 ducks, geese and swans feeding and roosting during the wild winter months. That’s not to mention flamingos, otters and some incredible views of the estuary itself from the centre’s numerous bird hides. Visiting is a bird spotter and photographer’s dream, and throughout the winter you can also book to experience the beauty and sounds of hundreds of wilds swans on a floodlit lake along with a meal at Slimbridge’s delicious Kingfisher Kitchen.
London Wetland Centre
Living in the capital doesn’t mean wetland environments are out of reach. The London Wetlands Centre in Barnes on the banks of the River Thames offers city dwellers a fantastic day out, one brimming with nature. Bitterns, otters, white fronted geese and kingfishers are just some of your potential sightings, plus their Wetlands Unravelled trail allows you to experience a brilliant programme of contemporary art that’s been woven through the lakes, ponds and reed beds.
Arundel, South Downs
At Arundel Wetlands Centre near Brighton you can take a walk along an intricate wooden boardwalk of decks and bridges, through a peaceful world of reeds and lakes where secretive snipe creep and marsh harriers soar above. Arundel’s lakes, reed beds, channels and waterfalls support a rich array of British wildlife favourites as well as a large and varied collection of international wildfowl, making it a brilliant place to see and photograph some seriously wonderous wetland wildlife.
Martin Meare, Lancashire
Thousands of migrant wild ducks, waders and swans make WWT Martin Mere a world-class birdwatcher’s paradise, especially in autumn and winter which offer spectacular displays of feather and flight. Enjoy stunning sunsets across the mere and witness the arrival of up to 30,000 pink-footed geese, who use the reserve for a few weeks to rest and refuel after travelling all the way from Iceland, before they continue their epic journey further south.
WWT Washington lies on the banks of River Wear between Newcastle and Sunderland, overlooked by the region's famous Penshaw Monument, and provides an inspirational example of how sound conservation management allows wildlife to thrive. From their spectacular lagoon hide you can feast your eyes on their fabulous flock of colourful Chilean flamingos or visit a feeding station to meet some friendly ducks, geese and otters – or just enjoy their cheeky antics!
Attenborough Nature Reserve, Nottinghamshire
Established in 1966 and opened by Sir David Attenborough, this beautiful complex of flooded former gravel pits and islands provide an exceptional habitat for a wide range of wildlife. The reserve is best known for its birds and in spring and autumn, many migrant birds pass through here and its Delta area attracts a wide range of waders including the iconic bittern. They also run loads of great sessions for kids of all ages to encourage little ones outdoors, whilst enjoying and learning about these vital habitats.
Otmoor – Oxfordshire
Made up of nearly 400ha of wet grassland, reedbed and hedgerows, nestled close to Oxford, Otmoor is one of the largest inland wetland areas in the UK. Home to rare species and impressive wildlife spectacles, a visitor trail leads you alongside an expansive floodplain of grazing marsh where you’ll see landscapes full of wading birds and wildfowl all year round. Winter especially sees over 4000 golden plovers, lapwing and wigeon, pintail, teal, shoveler, geese and swans call Otmoor their home.
Cley and Salthouse Marshes, Norfolk
Purchased in 1926 to be held in perpetuity as a bird breeding sanctuary, Cley and Salthouse Marshes has developed into one of the country’s most popular birdwatching sites and provided the UK with a blueprint for nature conservation. Six accessible hides give fantastic views across pools and scrapes, specially managed to attract breeding and passage birds. Their award-winning visitor centre too will appeal to art, music and nature lovers alike, featuring regularly changing exhibitions, workshops, talks, performances, guided walks and seasonal festivals.
Shapwick Heath, Somerset
Set amongst the Somerset Levels with Glastonbury Tor in the distance, this is one of the largest lowland wetland areas in Britain. Internationally important for wildlife, especially the large flocks of migrating birds that fly in each spring and autumn, visitors come here from far and wide to see rarities like marsh harrier, bittern and the great white egret. There is lots to see whatever time you come but the amazing sights and sounds of the starling murmurations in winter are one the UK’s great wildlife spectacles.
Insh Marshes, Highlands
One of Europe’s most important wetlands, covering 10sq km of the River Spey floodplain between Kingussie and Kincraig, this spectacular reserve supports all kinds of feathered wonders. Spring/summer is best for breeding waders including lapwings, curlews, snipe and redshank. Ospreys too, fish in Loch Insh and the nearby River Spey. In autumn look out for the arrival of winter migrants including whooper swans and greylag geese from Iceland. The surrounding woodland too is of high conservation importance for insects, mosses and lichens.
Caerlaverock, Dumfries and Galloway
Situated on the north Solway coast, this spectacular 1,400-acre wild reserve with its open coastal landscape and wide skies is full of the sights and sounds of nature – and very little else. The centre is deservedly famous for its vast flocks of over-wintering water-birds, including over 40,000 barnacle geese from Arctic Svalbard. Summer offers the opportunity to explore rolling wildflower meadows, watch ospreys hunting over the Solway, and even spot barn owls and badgers if you’re staying overnight in their self-catering farmhouse, which commands superb views courtesy of its very own observation tower.
LLanelli Wetland Centre, Carmarthenshire
This 450-acre mosaic of lakes, scrapes, pools, streams and lagoons adjoining the salt marshes and shore of the scenic Burry Inlet is a world of wildlife. Facing the beautiful Gower Peninsula, the sheer range of habitats here makes it a perfect refuge for a whole host of plants and animals, including tens of thousands of migratory birds. Little egrets – which were rarely seen in Wales before the centre opened - are often seen here now and fish are plentiful in the centre’s deep-water lake – to the delight of the local otters and herons! The kids too will love it, splashing about in their wellies in the outdoor adventure playground, escaping the Swan’s Nest Maze or crawling through the winding tunnels of Water Vole City.
Valley Wetlands, Anglesey
Formerly known as Valley Lakes, this wonderful nature reserve in Anglesey includes two sites of special scientific interest, its areas of open water a haven for a variety of aquatic plant communities. The site is home too for one of Wales’ most important reedbeds. In spring it comes alive with reed and sedge warblers, and if you’re lucky you may hear a booming bittern. As you wander through the grasslands and rocky knolls that intersperse this nature-rich paradise, keep an eye out on the lake for the spectacular courtship display of great-crested grebes which also breed here.
Castle Espie, County Down
Situated 12 miles south east of Belfast on the shores of Strangford Lough, Castle Espie is a magical mix of estuary views, tidal lagoon, eel-grass mats, woodland walks, salt marshes and reed beds. The newest WWT visitor centre and their first in Northern Ireland, it’s already being hailed as an international exemplar of best practice in habitat restoration, sustainable design and green tourism. The centre’s buildings are a visitor attraction in their own right because of their history and the numerous eco-friendly features. Castle Espie’s main draw though is its status as Ireland’s largest collection of native and exotic water birds, including a large proportion of the world’s entire population of light-bellied brent geese in winter.
Balloo Wetland, Bangor
Perfect for a family stroll while looking at the local flora and fauna, the recently renovated Balloo Wetland boasts two large ponds that provide a home to a variety of wildlife. Frogs and newts both breed here in spring and dragonflies, such as four-spotted chaser and common darter, can be seen darting around the ponds in summer. The sites circular boardwalk path is pram and wheelchair friendly, allowing easy access to the bird hide and picnic area so you can enjoy a tasty lunch amongst nature’s offerings. Ulster Wildlife, who look after the site, also run some lovely sounding events from time to time, such as 'Bugs and Beasties' and 'Meet the Birds of Balloo'. And let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to do that?
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