Urban Rewilding: WWT Wetlands in Barnes, London - Part II
Our look at the fantastic rewilding project across the river from Central London continues as we examine the habitats they are constructing and the techniques used.
This is the second of our two part series on urban rewilding at one of London’s most important wetland projects. WWT Wetlands have a clear goal in reintroducing wetland environments to west London, and it goes about achieving that with a number of rewilding techniques. With this follow-on piece we will point out how they have recreated wetland environments, what they are doing to maintain those habitats and plant life, as well as some specific rewilding techniques they have adopted.
One of the most significant approaches WWT has taken to developing its wetland habitats has been to portion out the majority of their project as separate from the public spaces. Roughly two-thirds of the project is entirely closed to the public beyond periodical, limited and guided tours. It’s wildlife first here! This approach helps to achieve higher levels of biodiversity and a bigger overall wildlife footprint, but is often difficult to achieve.
One of the elements of completing a larger, park-scale rewilding project is to be able to remove the human impact for a period of time to help restore the more fragile habitats. This typically happens at the 2nd stage of a park-scale wilding project, one that LettsSafari advocates across its network of rewilding safari parks.
The first stage, sometimes involving quite heavy human intervention, is to reclaim the spaces so that they can be rewilded, intervening if habitats are not able to form properly, or wildlife and plant life being introduced is being threatened. The second stage comes after the core habitats have been set up so that the wilder spaces can then expand without the intervention of humans anymore, allowing wildlife to maintain and develop the project on their own. This is the magical synchronicity of rewilding done correctly.
Once the project is more established, you can begin reintroducing wider human interaction. Importantly though, in larger projects such as the wetlands, public access to these spaces is more tightly restricted, with some wonderful viewing points, so that the work done to rewild the place is not undone by unrestricted or unsupervised human/canine intervention.
The London Wetland Centre, by doing this has produced 105 acres of wetland environments that provide essential habitats for as many as 250 sighted bird species. This highly effective wildlife reserve, carbon removal space and ‘lung’ for the city is an essential step in improving the biodiversity, and unique animal life within the capital and beyond.
While the Wetland Centre focuses on one particular animal type, aquatic birdlife, its ability to also arrest the general decline of birdlife in the city, and create habitats for hundreds of individual species highlights the importance of projects such as this within the wider rewilding movement. Small oases of rich biodiversity, tapestried across a town or city, connected by corridors of trees and shrubs could become a future architecture for green urban planning.
The wetlands are not a homogenous type of habitat in the London Wetland Centre though, rather the centre has put a lot of work into diversifying their habitats, to provide spaces for numerous different types of birdlife, insect life and more. In particular, they have a section dedicated to Mediterranean bird species, with a custom-built sandy environment and different flora to anywhere else in the project. You can see the contrasting way the rocky and sandy shoreline is set up in this habitat in the photograph below, and the striking way it differs from the other spaces around the reserve.
The Wetland Centre also adopts some important rewilding techniques that we have discussed previously in this series. They have installed a number of dead hedges, allowing for the natural development of hedgerow while also protecting new shoots and growth from being eaten back by herbivores, or trodden down/torn up by animals or particular bird species looking for nesting materials and even certain young prey.
WWT has also adopted simpler techniques, such as not removing collapsed trees, and more significantly, storing chopped up log piles on the natural floor. As long as the logs are wider than 8 inches, which is the case with the logs at the Wetlands Centre, they can produce thriving habitats for insect and bug life with cover for small mammals. This is almost certainly popular with the birds as well, who will be using those constructs to rootle around.
Finally, in unison with certain spaces at LettsSafari parks, WWT has a number of artistic and creative installations made from waste materials. Medium sized waste sculptures are dotted about the Wetlands Centre, as some of the wilder spaces at LettsSafari have pieces of wood carving and construction from local and nomadic communities who contribute to the early stages of our own rewilding developments.
The Wetlands Centre uses waste materials to construct unique structures, such as the educational fake bus stop, which contains information on the project inside, as well as a green roof covered in moss and grass growth.
Overall, our visit to the WWT London Wetlands Centre was illuminating for both the incredible birdlife they have been able to house and develop, but also for the stunning environments they have built to facilitate those bird populations. Inspiring for any visitor!
This remarkable haven has taken its time to construct some breathtaking habitats while adopting a number of rewilding techniques that anyone can recreate. It is important not to lose sight of that when discussing the role of nature within an urban environment. The average person living in the city does not have 105 acres to rewild into thriving wetlands, but by using the example and education provided by projects like WWT Wetlands, we can see how we could convert any space we have, however small, into a wilder one and perhaps even a mini LettsSafari!
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