A Scott wetland comes to SW13

THERE HAVE long been city parks and, in recent years, city farms have sprung up. Now a new phenomenon is nearing completion: a city wetland.

A 105-acre watery wilderness is being created in west London that includes a marsh, a large reed bed, a series of lakes and an extensive network of ponds.

This is The Wetland Centre, Barnes, the pounds 16m dream - now being realised - of Sir Peter Scott, the late naturalist, painter and founder of the World Wildlife Fund (now called the World Wide Fund for Nature).

Birds that normally steer well clear of cities, such as reed warblers and little ringed plovers, have already bred plentifully at the new centre; wild ducks and geese flock there by the hundred; a third of Britain's dragonfly species can be seen.

Sir Peter, whose wildfowl sanctuary at Slimbridge on the Severn became world-renowned, believed that a similar reserve could be set up in London, where it could serve as a powerful tool for environmental education.

Shortly before his death in 1989, he found the ideal site: a group of four Victorian reservoirs in west London owned by Thames Water but made redundant by a new large-scale water carrier, the Thames ring main.

He painted his impression of what they might become in his final painting (uncompleted on his death and finished by the artist Keith Shackleton).

A decade later, the transformation into what is believed to be the world's first real wetland in a capital city is nearly complete - thanks to an unusual three-way partnership between the water company, a housing developer and an organisation Sir Peter founded, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT).

Thames Water sold almost a fifth of the 125-acre site for housing to Berkeley Homes, which provided the pounds 11m cost of breaking up the four huge concrete and clay boxes that were the reservoirs and turning them into a series of wetland habitats with controllable water levels, to the WWT's design. The fitting-out of buildings will cost another pounds 5m, of which pounds 2m has already been raised.

The Wetland Centre will open in a year's time, but it is already clear that it will be a nature reserve to equal some of the most exciting in Britain, such as Slimbridge itself or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserve at Minsmere in Suffolk.

The plate-glass windows of the visitor centre, 25 feet high and 100 feet long, look directly on to a large shallow lake which last week was crowded with flocks of teal, Britain's smallest duck. On the leeward side of a small island, a dozen herons hunched in shelter from the wind. Many wintering ducks, such as pochard and shoveller, are currently occupying the lakes: in January, 50 species of birds were recorded.

Out on the reserve, two main hides overlook a mosaic of habitats designed to bring in as great a variety of birds and other wildlife as possible. One of the hides is three storeys tall and is believed to be the only one in the world with a lift, which is to be used for disabled access. Closed-circuit television will be installed throughout the site.

The WWT is expecting 350,000 visitors a year to The Wetland Centre, and one of its prime purposes will be education: a series of exhibits will inform people about river life of the Thames and about wetlands around the world.

"Sir Peter thought the future of wetlands lay in education," said Kevin Peberdy, 35, the project manager. "He thought a major part of conservation lay in the education of people and he wanted to attract people to a nature reserve who wouldn't normally go. So rather than creating reserves in isolated places where the birds were, he thought we should go where the people were, and bring the birds to them."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis