In­ner city sanc­tu­ary

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - Green Issues -

THE un­earthly gig­gling of marsh frogs echoes across the reed-fringed mere.

Through the early morn­ing mist lap­wings loop and plum­met, dive-bomb­ing a crow in­tent on nest plun­der­ing.

Squadrons of bees are al­ready hard at work min­ing pollen from the pink and pur­ple mo­saic of wet­land flow­ers.

But it is the ground-jolt­ing roar of an in­bound pas­sen­ger jet lurch­ing only a few hun­dred me­tres over­head that sig­nals you are in one of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary na­ture re­serves in the world.

The London Wet­land Cen­tre (LWC) sits just a hand­ful of miles from the in­ces­sant clam­our of the heart of the cap­i­tal, but this en­tirely man-made site has be­come one of the coun­try’s most im­por­tant wildlife refuges.

De­spite be­ing en­croached on all sides by the city, this Wild­fowl and Wet­lands Trust (WWT) re­serve has been awarded Site of Spe­cial Sci­en­tific In­ter­est (SSSI) sta­tus.

Con­sid­er­ing its lo­ca­tion, it at­tracts a huge amount of rare wildlife – slow worms, wa­ter voles, sev­eral species of bats and the elu­sive bit­tern can all be

found here.

The re­serve, wo­ven to­gether from four unin­spir­ing and un­used Thames Wa­ter reser­voirs, is cur­rently cel­e­brat­ing its 10th birth­day.

In the past decade the LWC has gone from strength to strength, boast­ing an ever-in­creas­ing list of species while en­abling more and more peo­ple to get to grips with the nat­u­ral world in the most un­likely of set­tings.

One of WWT founder Peter Scott’s last great projects, the LWC was in­tended to recre­ate some of the typ­i­cal habi­tats that fringe the Thames – but to place them slap bang in the cen­tre of the city.

A walk around the site re­veals graz­ing mead­ows, wet pas­ture, reed-beds, pools and even a wader scrape.

The suc­cess of the LWC is that vis­i­tors are im­mersed in an au­then­ti­cally wild place, while ev­ery­where around them the city seethes and bus­tles.

The cen­tre even man­ages to be­stow a sense of beauty on the cityscape: the harsh con­tours of Ca­nary Wharf, the London Eye and other loom­ing land­marks are some­how soft­ened when viewed from be­hind a prism of reeds.

A colos­sal amount of hard work was nec­es­sary for the LWC to be­come what it is to­day.

Built upon the old reser­voir site of Barn Elms, some 500,000 cu­bic me­tres of soil had to be sorted and remixed as work got un­der way in 1995.

More than 300,000 wa­ter plants and 27,000 trees were planted and 600m of board­walk and 3.4 km of path­way laid in prepa­ra­tion for the cen­tre’s open­ing.

Sev­eral ob­sta­cles were over­come on the way, in­clud­ing the dis­cov­ery of an un­ex­ploded Sec­ond World War bomb and the de­ci­sion by a pair of lit­tle ringed plovers to nest on the main bull­dozer track.

But de­spite the var­ied and colour­ful set­backs, Sir David At­ten­bor­ough opened the London Wet­land Cen­tre on May 26, 2000.

Sir David said he was in no doubt that the cen­tre would be a suc­cess.

He ex­plained: “The cen­tre has cer­tainly lived up to all ex­pec­ta­tions. In a way those work­ing on it were prob­a­bly more in­formed and crit­i­cal than I was. I had my view that it was bound to be sen­sa­tional.”

The other WWT cen­tres dot­ted around the UK were set up in es­tab­lished wild en­vi­ron­ments. To cre­ate the LWC in one of the world’s busiest and largest cities while still mak­ing it ben­e­fi­cial for wildlife was at the time an un­heard of idea.

Sir David added: “It was a log­i­cal ex­ten­sion of what he (Scott) had been do­ing since 1945; you can view it as the cli­max of his work.”

LWC has gone on to achieve some mem­o­rable wildlife suc­cess sto­ries since its open­ing.

Six bit­terns, among the UK’s rarest birds, chose to over­win­ter at the cen­tre this year: other scarce vis­i­tors keep­ing the twitch­ers busy in­clude a stone curlew, white-spot­ted bluethroat and night heron, rep­re­sent­ing just a frag­ment of the 222 bird species recorded at the cen­tre.

The UK’s most en­dan­gered mam­mal – the wa­ter vole – thrives at the cen­tre.

Sir David At­ten­bor­ough.

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