Birdwatchers triumph in row over entry fee to London reserve

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Twitcher power has won a notable victory in the case of admission prices to Britain's latest state-of-the art nature reserve, which birdwatchers considered excessive.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) is reducing proposed charges for members planning regular visits to its £16m reserve in Barnes, west London, due to open on 26 May. It follows protests by some who felt they were being exploited.

The reserve, barely two miles from Notting Hill, features lakes, streams, reedbeds and a marsh, with uncommon breeding birds such as lapwings and little ringed plovers.

Normal WWT membership gives unlimited access to all eight of the trust's existing reserves. The new membership category, Capital Plus, which includes unlimited visits to the Barnes reserve - proposed prices that were too high for some members. The £21 standard membership for an adult would rise to £36, while the £39 standard family membership would go up to £72.

In response to objections, the trust made Capital Plus adult membership £26 and family membership £49. Details were given in a "special announcement" which said the WWT had received letters and calls expressing concern that its original decisions "would not, in fact, be well received and were likely to displace support for the important work that we do".

It added: "Many members echoed the fact that operating the Wetland Centre, with its varied habitats and visitor facilities in London, would be significantly more expensive than anywhere else... but almost all agreed the level of increase for the Capital Plus membership scheme was excessive.

"We had been looking, perhaps too hard, to avoid having to ask too often by making sure that the new and very real costs of a new London centre were secured."

The message ended with a membership drive, saying the current scheme "should enable the WWT to provide sufficient income for centre operations".

The trust's managing director, Tony Richardson, was not available for comment yesterday. But some protesters are still unhappy. Nathalie Schorbon, of Stamford Hill, north London, said: "They have missed the point in not addressing the central issue - members in London and the South-east being charged more to visit their local centre than members elsewhere the country have to pay to go to WWT reserves in their areas." She would not be renewing her membership, she said.

The Barnes Wetland Centre was built on what was originally a 125-acre site containing four concrete reservoirs made redundant by the Thames Ring Main. Thames Water sold one-fifth of the site for housing to a developer, which provided the money to break up the reservoirs and create the wetland habitats.

Special facilities include a visitor centre and two main hides, one of them three storeys high and fitted with a lift for disabled access.

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