Waterlife 210 - October/December 2019

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The magazine of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust | 210 October/December 2019 | £4.25 | wwt.org.uk











We’re working to protect a network of critical wetlands and secure the future for migratory waterbirds, such as this pintail

to our summer visitors and hello to our winter arrivals. It’s always a joy to see the return of Bewick’s and whooper swans we’ve known since cygnets, along with all the ducks, geese and waders that create such a breathtaking winter spectacle at our centres. But not every individual makes it back. Many of our waterbirds undertake perilous journeys from their Arctic breeding grounds thousands of miles away to our wetlands. Their dramatic migrations push the birds to the limits of their endurance. They rely on favourable weather and the chance to rest and feed safely at wetlands along their route to survive. But their journeys are made even more dangerous by hunters’ guns, pylons, the climate crisis and other hazards. So with your support, we’re working to protect a vital migration path known as the Northwest European flyway, through international collaboration and coordinated efforts. Find out more about our migrants and their extraordinary journeys on pages 34 and 20. This winter, it’s not just the drama of our swan feeds that deserve your attention. Our centres’ feeders are among the best places to observe fascinating bird behaviour, glimpse rare species and witness life and death struggles. Discover our feeding station spectacular on page 28. WWT Slimbridge is delighted to announce the opening of our new Scott House Museum (see page 23). For years a family home and the headquarters of visionary global conservation action, Sir Peter’s house is now open to visitors. Come and see the place where history was made and all the treasures that mark Scott’s remarkable achievements.

James Lees/WWT

Autumn is a time of change, as we say goodbye

In this issue...

5 Front lines Martin Spray celebrates the conservation legacy of Sir Peter Scott 7 Waterways The latest WWT conservation news from around the world 19 Wigeon post Your latest letters and the pick of your photos 20 Spotter’s guide How to recognise Arctic migrants arriving for the winter 23 Room with a view Explore the new Scott House Museum and all its treasures 28 Bird-feeder blockbuster Enjoy a dramatic avian soap opera on our feeders 34 Great migration Discover how you’re helping to protect a vital migration path 40 Photo masterclass: mammal portraits Take your best shots with our course 42 Kids’ zone Steve Backshall reveals the secrets of our birds’ longest journeys 45 Down your way There’s so much going on at a wetland centre near you! 66 Back chat Meet a member of WWT’s team and find out what they do Do something amazing – LEAVE A GIFT TO WWT IN YOUR WILL Wetlands support a huge amount of life, providing homes and food for many species, and sustaining communities. But with half of the world’s wetlands lost in the past 100 years, we need your help to protect these precious places. To leave a gift in your will and make your lasting gift to wetlands, call our legacy manager, Lucy England, on 01453 891150 or visit wwt.org.uk/leave-a-legacy.

WWT is the leading global conservation organisation committed to the protection of wetlands and all that live in and around them. WWT is the only UK charity with a national network of specialist wetland centres that people can visit. It was founded in 1946 by the late Sir Peter Scott, the renowned naturalist and artist.

On the cover: SCOTLAND: The Big Picture

HEADQUARTERS Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Slimbridge, Gloucestershire GL2 7BT wwt.org.uk membership@wwt.org.uk Registered Charity No. 1030884 and SC039410 CENTRES For full contact details, please see page 45 WWT Arundel 01903 883355 WWT Caerlaverock 01387 770200 WWT Castle Espie 028 9187 4146 WWT Llanelli 01554 741087 WWT London 020 8409 4400 WWT Martin Mere 01704 895181 WWT Slimbridge 01453 891900 WWT Washington 0191 416 5454 WWT Welney 01353 860711

WATERLIFE The quarterly magazine of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Managing editor: Sophie Gore Browne waterlife@wwt.org.uk Editorial board: Ray Clark, Andrew Foot, Geoff Hilton, Baz Hughes, Rob Shore, Mark Simpson Editor: Sophie Stafford sophie.stafford@thinkpublishing.co.uk Chief sub-editor: Marion Thompson Designers: John Pender, Amanda Richardson Contributors: Dominic Couzens, Derek Niemann, David Tipling Sales executive: Jamie Dawson jamie.dawson@thinkpublishing.co.uk 020 3771 7220 Account director: John Innes, Think, Capital House, 25 Chapel Street, London NW1 5DH thinkpublishing.co.uk

Waterlife is published four times a year, and is printed by Wyndeham Southernprint, on UPM Ultra Silk 70gsm, an FSC paper accredited as coming from well-managed forest. Views expressed in the magazine do not necessarily reflect those of WWT. ISSN: 1752-7392 Average net circulation for the period Jan-Dec 2018: 92,098





DISCOVER A PIECE OF HISTORY A special place for wildlife and conservation is about to open to the

public for the first time. Sir Peter Scott’s studio in his home at WWT Slimbridge is widely regarded as the birthplace of modern conservation. It’s a valuable piece of the past – and the future. When you read about threats to our planet and the life on it, Scott’s studio is where much of our understanding of those challenges – and how we might overcome them – began. On the table by the window overlooking the Rushy Lake, the classification of species according to threat level was conceived and codified. Scott was instrumental in creating the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of species, which continues to prioritise world conservation efforts today. To inform the Red List, the room was the nerve centre of numerous expeditions across the world to study wildlife populations. Specifically, it’s where plans were hatched to save species from extinction, ranging from the nene in the 1950s to the Madagascar pochard today. This special room was also pivotal in global agreements that drive modern conservation today. The international Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance is so-named

because, while visiting Slimbridge in 1971, Iran’s environment minister invited WWT and the convention’s founders to inaugurate the convention in the city of Ramsar. In 1961, Scott was a founding member of the World Wildlife Fund. As its first chair, he drew the original WWF panda logo in his study. It sits alongside the paintings, sketches, war memorabilia and medals that make up his incredible life story. Many people who knew Scott as a broadcaster will recognise the huge study window overlooking the Rushy Lake where he was often filmed. In 1953, the BBC’s first-ever live nature broadcast came from Slimbridge. It was so successful that the BBC built a replica of the room at Alexandra Palace in London for future broadcasts, before moving its Natural History Unit to Bristol, where it could benefit from Scott’s input. The study is also the birthplace of all but one of WWT’s 10 UK wetland reserves (Scott chose Slimbridge as the location for his Wildfowl Trust before he moved to Gloucestershire). This is poignantly highlighted by Scott’s final painting of the London Wetland Centre, which has stood on the easel in the study since his death in 1989. It was later completed by his great friend Keith Shackleton, and it’s a perfectly

accurate view of a wetland that wasn’t created until more than a decade later. You might expect this global conservation landmark to be a grand and imposing building, but first and foremost it was a family home. The pictures of the children, the books and even a Post-it Note in the kitchen detailing the dog’s dietary requirements remain unchanged. At the Scotts’ request, I once used the study as my office and spent seven incredibly privileged years carefully touching nothing. Scott’s home is a window into the past, a time capsule of life in the 20th century, when watching live wildlife through a window was more inspiring than any TV documentary. This great man not only saw how humankind’s impact on our natural world would continue to grow, he also predicted that our passion could save it. That’s why WWT’s wetland centres aren’t private nature reserves. We want you to get close to wetlands and enjoy nature. The Scott House Museum is now open, and I know this great man would have loved to welcome you – our incredible members – to visit. To enjoy a sneak peak and find out how to book a tour, please turn to page 23.

Sir Peter Scott was often seen at the studio window of his house, looking out on the Rushy Lake and his adored Bewick’s swans





Martin Spray CBE, WWT Chief Executive



Our headstarted godwits have a great start in life. Here, they are learning to catch earthworms

Jess Owen

It’s official. Thanks to your support, there are more godwits in the Fens. Three years after the start of Project Godwit, the breeding population of godwits in the Ouse Washes area has increased from three to 12 pairs, the highest number this century. Across the Fens, 45 pairs have been recorded, up from 38 last year. Most of the UK’s godwit population breeds in the Fens at the Nene and Ouse Washes. In the 1980s and 1990s, numbers declined dramatically as nests were lost to increased flooding along the Ouse Washes. By 2000, the population had almost vanished. So WWT created wet grassland habitat adjacent to the Washes to support pairs displaced from breeding grounds. One such site, WWT Welney’s Lady Fen, has been a lifeline for the remaining birds. Creating suitable habitat is only part of our recovery plan. After the Ouse population had remained at around three pairs for a number of years, we realised that – even with good breeding success – recovery might take decades. So we decided to give them a boost.

Kim Tarsey/WWT

GOOD NEWS FOR GODWITS In 2016, Project Godwit started helping young godwits through the most vulnerable stage of their development by rearing and releasing them. In 2017 and 2018, 49 birds were released at Lady Fen and 15 at the RSPB’s Nene Washes. This year, a fantastic 21 of these young birds returned to breed. Around 25% of the 45 pairs that bred in the Fens this year included one or two of the young birds we helped. Twelve of these pairs nested at the Ouse Washes sites, up from eight in 2018. And this year another 48 headstarted birds were released. But it isn’t all good news. The breeding success of wild pairs in the Ouse and Nene Washes was low this year, with few chicks surviving to fledge. Project Godwit is

monitoring these pairs to determine why they failed to raise their chicks, and testing ways we can increase their success. The long-term future of the UK’s godwits – and all ground-nesting waders – depends not only on the quality and management of their breeding habitat, but also on getting predation to a sustainable level, as well as the presence of a healthy network of wetlands. Project Godwit is helping to spread the message about the importance of wetlands in the Fens through its schools programme. Since April 2018, we’ve worked with more than 500 local school children and inspired 18 classes to become Godwit Guardians, enabling pupils to follow their godwit and its incredible journey over the coming years. Visit projectgodwit.org.uk.

Our Godwit Guardians are the species champions of the future

Project Godwit is a partnership between WWT and the RSPB, with funding from the EU LIFE Nature Programme, Natural England, HSBC 150th Anniversary Fund, the Montague-Panton Animal Welfare Trust and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.



WWT NEWS Curlew chicks – hatched from eggs rescued from an airfield – receive some TLC to help them survive this challenging period in their life cycle

Thanks to your incredible response to last year’s curlew appeal, our curlew recovery project has already got off to a soaring start with 100% breeding success rate. The project got off to a great start, working with farmers and local conservation groups to improve the fortunes of curlews in the Severn and Avon Vales. Here, the riverside meadows that run from WWT Slimbridge towards Worcester and Tewkesbury are home to about 35 surviving curlew pairs. Our two-person curlew team has been busy mapping breeding pairs, finding their well-hidden nests (with great difficulty) and monitoring their eggs and chicks, with help from volunteers and in partnership with the Gloucestershire Naturalists’ Society. We’re also trying to determine the most effective way to improve curlew breeding success. We used drones with thermal imaging cameras to find nests and

surrounded them with electric fences to deter predators and prevent damage. The team has built great relationships with farmers on whom curlews depend. The response from the farming community has been spectacular: they’ve moved heaven, Earth and mowing dates to try to protect the birds’ eggs and chicks. We’re not sure yet whether the breeding season has been a success, but we have a great platform to build on for next year. Meanwhile, in partnership with the Ministry of Defence and Natural England, our conservation breeding experts have been rearing chicks from eggs rescued from airfields. After more than 10 weeks of careful incubation and rearing, the eggs have turned into 50 sleek young curlews. The first groups were recently released onto the Slimbridge reserve. So far, things

are looking good. The birds are fighting fit and ready for life in the wild. They’ll soon disappear to estuaries in Britain, Ireland or France, but we hope to see them again in spring 2021 as breeding adults. We have also been helping Curlew Country, a local conservation project based in Shropshire. Our aviculturists are supporting its rearing programme, with extra help from our friends at Chester Zoo. This has been another great success, with 33 young birds reared and released. Finally, we are trying to influence curlew conservation nationally. In July, we attended a Curlew Summit at 10 Downing Street to discuss how we can save curlews with MPs and senior civil servants. We intend to get this important conservation issue addressed!

Sam Stafford/WWT





First, we find the curlew’s nest. They typically lay four eggs and incubate for about a month

Then, after hatching, we make sure Chicks are ringed and tagged before we release them the chicks are healthy. We weigh into the wild them and take measurements

Kane Brides/WWT



A world first: the two spoonie chicks raised at WWT Slimbridge

Two critically endangered spoon-billed sandpiper chicks have been successfully raised at WWT Slimbridge – for the first time ever.

The rearing of two healthy young birds is a world first of which we are justifiably proud. It’s the result of eight years of hard work and dedication by WWT’s avicultural and veterinary teams. In 2011, the wild population of these birds was declining at a rate of 26% a year, and extinction looked like a real possibility. At our centre, we established a captive flock of ‘spoonies’ – as they are affectionately known. We created a purposebuilt aviary at Slimbridge and did everything we could to encourage the birds to breed. We recreated the Russian tundra for the birds to breed in, manipulated light levels to give them their preferred breeding 10


conditions and installed air conditioners and overhead cold water misting systems to keep them cool. We fed the spoonies a diet similar to what they would eat in the wild. This year, we even went so far as to give them rat tail vertebrae to mimic the lemming bones

they might feed on naturally in the tundra to obtain the calcium required for egg-shell production. By the start of the breeding season in April, we had done all we could – now it was down to the birds. To our delight, three pairs started nest scraping in

mid-April – the males making shallow depressions in the vegetation, which they showed off to their mates for approval. Then, on 28 April, our first egg was laid – exactly one year to the day after egg-laying started in 2018! The female then laid another two eggs, and thankfully all three eggs proved to be fertile. Three chicks hatched on 27 May. Sadly, one died soon after, but we reared the remaining two chicks indoors for 10 days, then transferred them to an outdoor enclosure where they grew quickly and acquired their juvenile plumage. At the time of writing in September, both spoon-billed sandpiper chicks are fit and well and thriving. So please join us in raising a glass to Slimbridge’s spoonie saviours – we salute you! For more information about our spoonie work, which is supported by Leica UK, please visit saving-spoon-billedsandpiper.com.

In OTHER spoonie news... By the end of 2018, we had headstarted 163 spoon-billed sandpipers in the Russian Far East, representing about 20% of the fledged young of the wild population. At the time of writing, another 23 chicks are being reared in Meinypil’gyno, ready for release in early August. A total of 12 spoonies have been satellite-tagged so far, six in China (four in


2018 and two in 2019) and six in the Russian breeding grounds. Lime07, the final bird to be tagged, led us to his wintering area in Indonesia – the first time that country has been recorded as a spoonie site. He recently reappeared in Russia without his tag! Tagged birds have helped us to identify new breeding, moulting and wintering sites, including only the second-

known moulting site in the world, in the demilitarized zone on the Korean peninsula. They have also resulted in China removing illegal nets and have identified possible new breeding sites in Russia. This autumn, we plan to tag another five birds in China. They’ll hopefully reveal new wintering sites, so we can help to protect these vital areas too.

Sam Stafford/WWT


PHOTO COMPETITION Everyone has a duty to look after the environment

Ed Waldron/WWT

RIGHTS FOR NATURE By Peter Morris, Head of PR & Communications The weather might be turning colder, but the climate crisis is hotting up. September’s global strikes against climate change and the UN’s Climate Action Summit in New York challenged world leaders to take action to protect our future. Environmental damage is now unstoppable. But we can still act. Scientists estimate that we may be able to halve the decline in crop yields, fishery catches, and animal and plant populations if we can limit the average temperature increase to 1.5°C. The timing of the summit was serendipitous for the UK’s political future. Our environmental laws have developed as part of Europe’s. As we explore our new relationship with the EU, now is the time to exert pressure to strengthen those domestic laws to meet future challenges. That means we need a strong Environment Bill for England – the government published a draft Bill nearly a year ago – and equivalent legislation across all the home nations. Around the world, governments and business are under pressure to consider a greener future. That pressure also applies to us as individuals. Next year, a UN Global 12


Pact on the Environment is mooted that would set nature’s rights in stone, just as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights did for people’s rights after World War II. Don’t mistake this as rights for ducks (as fun as that sounds!). It’s more a right for people to live in a healthy natural environment. A key article in the draft Pact is that: ‘Every state or international institution, every person… has the duty to take care of the environment. To this end, everyone contributes at their own levels to the conservation, protection and restoration of the integrity of the Earth’s ecosystem.’ At WWT, we’ll be meeting the Pact by directing our expertise and efforts towards protecting the cradle of most life – the world’s wetlands. These vital habitats help tackle global warming by storing carbon and cooling air. They also mitigate the effects of extreme rainfall or dry weather. You can do your part too, by supporting our work, making wetland-friendly choices (such as saving water), volunteering and spreading a love for nature. The more of us that show we care, the more governments and big business will need to respond, and the better chance we’ll have to create a healthy future for all life on our planet, including ourselves.




It’s not too late to enter your images in our annual photo competition – and be in with a chance of winning a pair of Swarovski CL Companion 8x30 binoculars worth £910. We’re looking for the best images of wildlife, landscapes and people interacting with nature taken at one of our centres. The finalists will be published in the


January/March 2020 issue of Waterlife, and the overall winner will be awarded those fantastic Swarovski binoculars. But be quick! You’ve only got until 10 October to enter. For all the details and the rules, visit wwt.org. uk/waterlifephoto.

SWARO VSKI CL 8X30 BINOCU LARS WORTH £910! To ente r, and for th e full ru visit w wt. les, waterl org.uk/ ifepho to

SHARE YOUR VIEWS Tell us what you think about Waterlife and you could win a £50 John Lewis voucher as a thank you for taking part! As a valued WWT supporter, your feedback is important to us. We want to hear what you think of Waterlife – the good and the bad – so we can make your magazine even better.

Our short survey will take only 10 minutes to complete and all responses will remain anonymous. Complete the survey by 21 October, and enter our prize draw to be in with a chance of winning a £50 John Lewis voucher. To find out more and take our survey, visit wwt.org.uk/ readers-survey.

Jonathan Cuttle



TOWERING AMBITIONS In November, the new Estuary Tower Hide at WWT Slimbridge opens with a weekend of special events, and we hope you’ll join us.

Slimbridge’s place as the flagship of the Severn Estuary, a special weekend of events will take place on 16-17 November. Special guests include natural history presenter Mike Dilger, as well as writer and curlew expert Mary Colwell.
The WWT conservation team will also provide an update about the curlew project. For event details please visit wwt.org.uk/ slimbridge.

An artist’s impression of the new Estuary Tower Hide

White Design/WWT

Built on the site of the former Holden Tower, the hide provides magnificent views over the Severn Estuary. It boasts an open roof terrace that can be enjoyed by everyone, including wheelchair users, thanks to the installation of a new lift. WWT’s founder, Sir Peter Scott, called this part of Slimbridge the ‘avian Serengeti’, and autumn is a great time to experience the breathtaking numbers of wintering wild ducks, geese, swans

and waders. Look out for our famous Bewick’s swans. The Estuary Tower Hide is part of Slimbridge 2020, an ambitious project supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Situated close to the sea wall, the tower will be a key stop on a new summer walkway that is being developed to be fully accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs. The walkway will be open by summer 2020, so that all of our visitors can immerse themselves in Slimbridge’s breathtaking wildlife reserve. To open the new Estuary Tower and celebrate

SHARING THE LOVE OF WETLANDS This summer we’ve been inspired by your tales of what you do to help wetlands in your homes and gardens. Thanks to all our members and supporters who came to say hello at Countryfile Live and Birdfair. At our stand, we discussed four actions we can take



home to help wetlands and wildlife: build a pond, create a mini wetland, save water or use peat-free compost. We were amazed by how many of you go to great lengths to create wildlife habitat and save water. And also delighted that many of you went away pledging to direct your drainpipe into a


Together we can create more mini wetlands

mini wetland, having seen our demonstration model. Fortunately, it’s not too late to catch us. We’re

excited to be exhibiting at New Scientist Live at ExCeL London on 10-13 October. Come and discover more about wetlands alongside school groups, families and our conservation partners. If you’re not able to get to the exhibit but would like to know more about what goes on beneath the surface of wetlands, and what you can do to help, visit wwt.org.uk/pledge.


Alick Simmons

BABY BOOM As we approach the end of 2019, it looks as though this year will go down as the best breeding season ever for the cranes in south-west England. Damon Bridge of the RSPB and WWT’s Baz Hughes tell the story…

Though the same number of Great Crane Project pairs attempted to nest in 2019 as in 2018, those that bred this year were much more successful. A bumper crop of nine chicks has fledged in Somerset, including a pair that, against the odds, managed to raise twins. This brings the total young now fledged in the West Country to 27.

The success across the peatlands of the Levels and Moors is partly due to the species-rich hay meadows, which experience minimal disturbance from farming operations, late cutting and a delayed start to cattle grazing in spring, due to the soft, wet conditions. Of the five pairs of cranes at Slimbridge, three made nesting attempts, and Wendy and Albert successfully hatched two chicks on their second attempt. Sadly, in July, we noticed the pair were very distressed, and the chicks have not been seen since.

your wild PHOTOS The winner of this issue’s reader photo contest
 is Janice Clark for this adorable photo of a black-headed gull and its chick on an impressive mound of a nest at WWT Slimbridge. Janice says: ‘I spotted this black-headed gull on its nest from the Rushy Hide. When it stood up, I saw the tiny chick it was protecting and I couldn’t resist taking a photograph.’ WIN A COPY OF COLOURED KEY TO THE WILDFOWL OF THE WORLD Janice wins a copy of Sir Peter Scott’s Coloured Key to the Wildfowl of the World (revised edition), worth £9.99 and published by WWT.




Jasper and Viridor’s chick is enjoying exploring the wide open spaces of the Somerset Moors

The reserves in Somerset and at Slimbridge are managed with cranes in mind, and we’ve created many new breeding sites at both reserves. As our breeding pairs get older and wiser, they’re likely to have more success. The reintroduced birds need to rear, on average, six to seven young each year in total to keep the population stable, so hopefully we’re now well on the way to increasing and sustainable numbers in south-west England. Visit thegreatcraneproject.org.uk, funded by Viridor Credits Environmental Company.

We’re always looking for your best photos taken at a WWT centre. Simply send them in to waterlife@wwt. org.uk, along with a brief story, including where they were taken and what you saw, and you could be in with a chance of being published in this spot and winning a fabulous prize. Don’t miss out!

Vine House Farm



91WTLOCT19143.pgs 04.09.2019 12:27

WIGEON POST We’d love to hear your thoughts about wetlands, WWT and Waterlife and to share your photos, so please write to us at Wigeon Post, WWT, Slimbridge, Gloucestershire GL2 7BT, or email waterlife@wwt.org.uk

Shelduck skirmish In March, I was the only person in the Rushy Hide at Slimbridge when two shelducks began a fight that lasted long enough for me to grab a few shots. Van Greaves, via email A tufted duck under one arm We had a group of birders visiting the day this photo was taken. I was worried we might not catch many birds, so I had some Waterlife magazines featuring our ringing work ready to show them. But as fate would have it, when we checked the nets one last time, we caught a male tufted duck and ringed it in front of a small audience. Someone pointed out that I had a tuftie under one arm exactly as I appeared in a photo in the feature! Baz Hughes, Head of Conservation Action at WWT

The perils of ‘getting down low’ I read the July/September edition of Waterlife from cover to cover. As ever, it was full of interesting articles, facts and photos, and I particularly liked the photo masterclass on taking flower portraits. But there was one glaring omission. Where David Tipling wrote ‘crouch or lie down for a more intimate view’, he should have added ‘When you’ve got it, crawl to the nearest fence, bench or tree to haul yourself up. If no upright structure is available, hail the next passing WWT visitor for assistance!’ I speak from experience – and attach a portrait of an anemone as evidence of my efforts. Dyanna Swindlehurst, Southport

Little bustard bonus In June, a little bustard visited Slimbridge. I was on a Discovery Day with Martin McGill and was lucky enough to see it take to the air after being flushed by a crow. I captured some shots of it in flight – although a good distance away – before it vanished again. Hundreds of birdwatchers come to see this rare bird, but most see only its head poking up above the tall grasses, so I consider myself fortunate. My thanks to WWT, which organised wonderful late and early viewings of the bird. I gather that the last time the species was recorded in Gloucestershire was in 1946. John R Fletcher

send us your best photos!

Rare reed warbler view On an exciting day at Slimbridge in June, I spent ages in the Robbie Garnet Hide watching a pair of reed warblers with their young. I managed to get this image of a juvenile when it was clear of the reeds. Janice Clark, via email A stealthy bird I took this photo of an elusive water rail at WWT Arundel earlier this year. I was particularly pleased with it. What huge feet! Gerry Bennett Beautiful butterflies I thought you might like to see a wonderful painted lady taken at WWT Arundel in August. There was an influx of these butterflies this year, but it’s still a delight to see them, especially as I really did get a smile for the camera! Anne Thompson, Newbury, Berkshire






ummer has gone and Britain’s long winter awaits, with its grey skies, rain and damp – what’s not to love? The birds of the Northwest European flyway certainly relish our climate’s comparative mildness though, flocking here in huge numbers to escape the prospect of heavy snow and lengthy frosts further north and east. Our centres spring to life in the late autumn, as flocks of ducks and waders, and skeins of geese and swans descend upon our Elysian fields, bringing their spectacle, their noise and their general effervescence. Luminous against the

The appearance of the Bewick’s swan heralds the start of an influx of winter visitors from colder climes, says Dominic Couzens. So wrap up warm and enjoy a spectacle of thousands grey landscape is the white plumage of Bewick’s swans, which arrive mainly in late October and November, and whooper swans, which grace our reserves from September. Meanwhile, the bright colours and patterns of northern ducks such as pintails, wigeons and pochards enliven the darkening waters at this time of year.

‘The birds don’t waste their time; as soon as they arrive they are busy preparing for the cold winter ahead,’ says Dave Paynter, Reserve Manager at WWT Slimbridge. Swans and geese are strengthening their pair bonds, young and unpaired birds are engaged in the important work of finding a mate and everyone is feeding voraciously,

Some of the Bewick’s swans you can see at WWT Slimbridge have been coming here for around 30 years

See it for yourself


As the mercury dips and winter approaches, our centres welcome thousands of ducks, geese and swans from the cold north. Visit our Down Your Way section (from page 45) or go online to join our unique events, including swan feeds and how to be a swan researcher.




Six species to see WHOOPER SWAN Similar to Bewick’s swans but larger, whooper swans have more yellow on the bill, like a wedge of cheese. They often make a triple trumpet blast, and when they fly, the wings swish quietly, unlike the mute swan’s noisy sighing.

BLACK-TAILED GODWIT The quintessence of a true ‘wader’, the black-tailed godwit has long everything – wings, legs, wing-bars, bill and even tongue! Look for this truly elegant bird probing damp pastures.

Steve Nicholls/WWT; WWT; James Lees/WWT; Nigel Snell/WWT; Anne & Chris Algar/WWT

BARNACLE GOOSE Barnacle geese are similar to Canada geese, although they are smaller, shorter-necked and sound like yapping dogs when in a flock. The whole face is a slightly dirty white, and they have greyer bodies.

POCHARD The male is tricoloured – a smart wine-red, black and grey. The female is dull brown, with a pale eye-ring that suggests a bad make-up day. They form large flocks in winter, often with other diving ducks.

KNOT Rather dull, grey and featureless, the knot’s legs look too short for it as it probes into estuarine mud. Highly sociable once in a flock, the knot becomes a marvel, rivalling starlings for their dramatic aerobatics.

Our centres spring to life in late autumn, as flocks of ducks and waders and skeins of geese and swans descend upon our Elysian fields laying down fat to protect against the cold. In the pink-footed goose flocks, whole families scuffle with rival clans. This competition might recur on the breeding grounds next year, or back here again next winter. For everybody, it is important to get into and stay in good condition by feeding up well. It’s a matter of survival, but it is also about looking to the future. PINTAIL PERFORMANCE

Almost as soon as they arrive, ducks such as pintails throw themselves into courtship routines. It might seem early, but pairing up is a long, unhurried process. ‘At first, groups of male pintails display together, lifting their heads up, pointing their bills down and burping,’ says Dave. ‘It makes great viewing.’ They will also lift up their backsides, tails pointing into the air. As pairs form, they take part in ceremonial pursuitflights, often involving a single female and several males, in which one, the potential mate, is being tested. For ducks, winter is the crucial time for pairing. When the new pairs finally return north in the spring, they typically head for the female’s natal area. Bewick’s swans and pink-footed geese also pair up in their winter flocks, so while you might think of winter as a fallow time, it most certainly isn’t. One of our most handsome ducks, the pintail has stunning long tail feathers

EUROPEAN WHITEFRONTED GOOSE Did you know the white ‘front’ referred to in the name isn’t the front, it’s the front: French for forehead. The brown blotches on the breast are characteristic, and they feed in large, easily spooked flocks.





This window overlooking the Rushy Lake is at the heart of the house and our new museum



ong before the family moved into the purpose-built house in Slimbridge in the year of the Queen’s coronation, Sir Peter Scott was clear about what he wanted as its main feature. It still brings a gasp from everyone who steps into the room today. The man Sir David Attenborough dubbed ‘the patron saint of conservation’ wanted a window on wildlife, a wide, practically floor-to-ceiling glass frontage like one he had admired during a trip to Canada, before the war. There, those indoors could watch great flocks of wild snow geese taking flight just outside. The main picture-window room in Scott House would become a family lounge, with comfy chairs and cushions. Bathed in light, it became the artist’s

Lovingly restored, Sir Peter Scott’s home has been opened to the public for the first time. Derek Niemann takes a look around...

A VIEW studio, as the ducks, swans and geese that appeared on Scott’s canvas swam into view on the lake right outside the window. It was also a study, with a writing desk and bookshelves that grew into a library over time. Within two years, this private space was doubling as a TV studio too, as Scott welcomed the cameras to record the world’s first live wildlife broadcast – Look

– the Springwatch of its day. It turned its presenter into a national celebrity in a series that ran for 14 years. He understood the power of showing wildlife up-close. After all, he saw and was inspired by it every time he came downstairs. It was Scott’s ethos of sharing nature that brought WWT into existence, and is maintained by his successors to this day. OCTOBER/DECEMBER 2019





The famous Polar explorer died when his son was just two years old. In his last letter, he urged his wife to ‘make the boy interested in natural history if you can’. Captain Scott’s photograph sits above the painting chest. He would surely have been proud of ‘the boy’ and his achievements.


We can still see the practical workings of a great artist in the sturdy old chest of drawers that Scott turned into his painting chest. Not content with storing tins of paint and brushes in the drawers, Scott used the top as his palette, leaving dried blobs and splashes of colour in his artistic wake.




A window on wildlife

One of the chief requirements for the house that Scott planned in 1953 was for an unimpeded view of the wetland reserve. The huge picture window looks out over the Rushy Lake, a purpose-built lake where Scott began studying Bewick’s swans in 1964. It’s now one of the most intensive long-running single-species projects in the world.


Scott’s final painting started as an impression of what London’s disused Barn Elms reservoirs could look like, transformed by WWT’s care. After his death, his friend Keith Shackleton completed the work, which still sits on its easel. Eleven years later, the London Wetland Centre became our ninth centre.



The eminent ornithologist built an impressive library of books about birds and other wildlife over his lifetime. These were an invaluable personal aid during decades of meticulous research. Scott House volunteers have started the huge task of cataloguing them. On the shelves are many books that Scott wrote himself.


The panda cushion on the sofa is just one of a plethora of items relating to the world’s bestknown bear that are scattered around the house. Scott co-founded the World Wildlife Fund to protect wildlife and even designed its iconic logo. His original drawing of it hangs on the studio wall.


Pride of place on Scott’s cluttered bureau goes to a 1794 telescope that had belonged to the famous engraver/naturalist Thomas Bewick (after whom the swans were named). Scott’s swan diaries are here too (see page 26), as well as a model of Beatrice, the canal boat that was a floating HQ for WWT in its infancy.






Painted in 1965, The Natural World of Man is Scott’s nightmare vision of the environmental crises facing humanity. A man is transfixed before a pyramid of problems, including a nuclear mushroom cloud, pollution and the need to save endangered species such as the blue whale, the whooping crane and the rhino.



In the early 1930s, Scott was a regular at Borough Fen, north of Peterborough. A keen wildfowler at the time, he started to take an interest in the birds that were caught in its duck decoy and kept various species of duck in a makeshift pen to study and paint them at close quarters.


Ceramicist Jessie Tait used Scott’s designs to create a range of wild geese pottery in 1954. Part of a post-war boom in colourful pottery after years of white-only austerity, they were sold to raise funds for WWT. Lady Scott drank her daily cuppa from this crockery.

Sir Peter and Lady Philippa had the vision and selflessness to turn their good fortune to wildlife’s benefit. They kept a visitors’ book that was signed by both royalty and the ‘royalty’ of conservation. As the couple welcomed the great and the good into their home, it became a meeting venue, and a place of persuasion over a cup of tea. It cannot be a coincidence that the Duke of Edinburgh was coaxed into becoming WWT’s President in 1960, the same year he sat in the Scotts’ lounge. He readily took up the same role a year later for WWF,

Watching Bewick’s swans from his study window, Scott quickly realised that each swan had unique markings on its bill, and so he painted the head of every swan that arrived. The swan diaries are a record of the birds, their mates and offspring – visible proof that the same birds returned year after year. 26




4 the swan diaries

The kitchen was clearly state of the art… for the 1950s! Not much appears to have changed since the family moved in, including the Baby Belling cooker, the fridge and the can opener on the wall

an organisation that the far-sighted Scott founded to fund the protection of threatened species all over the planet. Today, we have the privilege of walking around the ground floor of Scott House, a family home like no other. Although Scott himself died 30 years ago, the house is almost unchanged, as his widow Lady Philippa Scott altered little before her own death in 2010. Yet like any other family home, it is filled with a lifetime’s accumulation of bric-a-brac. But here the objects scattered on tables and mounted on

walls are tangible evidence of lives that helped to shape the face of modern conservation (see page five). The house also reveals something of the unusual domestic life of the outwardfacing Scott family. The children were instructed to ‘move as slowly as the hands of a clock’ when passing in front of the window, lest they disturb the wildlife. Their parents often crawled across the floor to get from one side of the room to the other to remain invisible through the windows. There was no let-up in the

dining room, which boasted another big window. Lady Scott’s sitting room, its filing cabinets stuffed with more than 40,000 photographic slides that were used in books and other publications, was where the family huddled around the TV. Scott House was always a local hub with global reach. Painting and studying birds from his studio, Scott learnt the importance of wetlands like Slimbridge to birds all over the world. The museum is a fitting tribute showcasing all the ways Scott worked towards this during his lifetime. n


5 visitors’ book

Every VIP who came to see the Scotts at Slimbridge signed the visitors’ book, including HM The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip, Prince of Wales Prince Charles and the Queen Mother. Conservationists also added their signatures, including Sir David Attenborough, who became a good friend.

n Scott House Museum is open daily for tours with our volunteer guides. Tours are included in the admission price or member entry, but a donation of £5 will help us to maintain Scott House. Book in advance to avoid disappointment. Visit wwt.org.uk/slimbridge/ scott-house or book at reception (depending on availability). n Why not come and stay at Bewick’s Lodge, our luxury accommodation within Scott House? See page 22 for details.






range of You can buy a ed and quality birdse local ur yo in s feeder re nt WWT ce gift shop

Your local wetland centre is not just the place to see waterbirds, it’s also the stage for avian dramas on a grand scale. Dominic Couzens reveals the cast of rare and special characters you might see at one of our feeding stations – and explores their fight for survival




Alan Williams/NPL

The feeding stations at our centres support a wealth of small birds, including colourful characters such as siskins (shown here), bullfinches and woodpeckers, as well as exciting numbers of rare and declining species such as the tree sparrow. And you’ll also see some unexpected wetland birds making a visit





here might not be anything unusual in the water at WWT Washington, but there’s obviously something special in the seed. ‘I once saw 18 bullfinches together at the Hawthorn Wood feeding station,’ recalls Baz Hughes, WWT’s Head of Conservation Action. ‘An astonishing number!’ That’s about as many as anybody has ever seen at one time in Britain, other than the odd migratory flock. The hides at your local WWT centre offer an amazing view of the action around the feeders – and some surprises too. ‘There are willow tits at Washington and at Martin Mere,’ Baz continues. Willow tits are a prime Red-Listed species, of serious conservation concern. Meanwhile, flocks of rare tree sparrows guzzle from feeders near Washington’s visitor centre, and sightings of this rare and declining species are almost guaranteed at Welney. ‘Martin Mere has had another bumper year for tree sparrows, with about 50 chicks fledged in the area near the Tower feeding station,’ Baz reveals. Clearly, something very special is going on.




Water rails are surprise guests at our feeders – but are they after the seeds or something more mercenary?

Let’s face it, everyone loves feeding birds – from distracted householders to those whose lives revolve around conservation, such as Baz. And it’s that time of the year when the hanging seed dispensers become bright spots against the tired vegetation and the ragged landscape. When all outside is bleak and dank, the liveliness of the comings and goings of birds is a great tonic for many winter-weary people. There’s colour there, in every sense. Take those ubiquitous visitors, the blue and great tits. Though it’s easy to overlook such familiar garden staples, the vivid blue, black and yellow colours and patterning on both species rival the fashion sense of showy tropical birds. And, of course, they are fidgety, noisy, quarrelsome, inquisitive and alert. They turn the business of feeding into a mighty drama. And if you add in the other more specialist characters – willow tits, reed buntings and, if you’re lucky, water rails and sparrowhawks – you have your own mini-series.

Erlend Haarberg/NPL

Bird feeders provide an excellent opportunity to study interactions between species and individuals. Here, bramblings squabble in mid-air while waiting their turn on a feeder


At our centres you can watch a live blockbuster. You could spend a whole day watching from one of our hides and never get bored


Ben Sadd

Hanging feeders are not the only way we ensure wild bird populations have enough food to survive

Another way to help is by enriching the local habitat and providing food indirectly. By restoring ponds in farmland, as our Head of Conservation Evidence, Geoff Hilton, explains: ‘We’re helping to restore old, overgrown “ghost” ponds in farming areas in Norfolk – and the results are spectacular! The ponds spew out insects like chimneys into the surrounding countryside and become hives of activity for many declining farmland birds, such as yellowhammers.’ It has also been shown that, despite their name, tree sparrows are virtually dependent on aquatic insects to feed their young. So pond restoration is likely to be critical in helping to protect this rapidly decreasing bird.


When it comes to feeding birds, you have to use your imagination. Different birds have different skill sets, different requirements and different anatomy, so what suits one species won’t necessarily work for another. We’ve taken this to new levels with our floating feeders, designed to support critically endangered Madagascar pochards on Lake Sofia. ‘It’s essential that reintroduced birds stay on the lake, where there is habitat, food and safety,’ explains Conservation Breeding Manager Nigel Jarrett. ‘There’s

nowhere else locally for them to go. So we tempt them to stay by providing specially designed feeding rafts, based on salmon nets.’ The premise is simple enough. The food is placed on a raft surrounded by a floating chamber with netting around it, keeping competitors and predators out. The only way in is to dive beneath the chamber. Since Madagascar pochards are diving ducks, it is second nature for them to use the feeders. The feeders were tested at Slimbridge with the help of Baer’s pochards, another endangered diving duck. In the future, the design could have many uses elsewhere.

Unique feeders ens ure rare Madagascar pochar ds can access supplementary foo d safely

At our centres, you can watch a big-budget, full-on blockbuster movie. Our feeding stations are often at the edge of wild areas already rich in birdlife, so they provide an even wider cast of characters and interactions. You could spend a whole day just watching from one of our hides and never get bored. That’s because, as everybody knows, you never know what you are going to see next. One moment, two great tits will be bickering over a desired perch; and the next, both are diving for their lives as a sparrowhawk approaches. Just as suddenly, an exciting, unusual species, such as a brambling, might turn up out of the blue. THE GREATEST SHOW

The comings and goings at feeders give the impression of chaos at first, but behind the busyness, definite patterns can be detected. For example, not every tit in a population can get to the food supply at the same time. At your average UK bird feeder, you might see only a dozen or so individuals all at once, but over the course of the day there might be 100, or even more, visiting from around the neighbourhood. This is for two reasons. Firstly, certain individuals habitually visit at certain times, effectively doing a ‘milk round’ of suitable locations. But the second reason is more interesting: birds have hierarchies. Some individuals spend longer at the feeding station and acquire more food than others. We’ve all seen these hierarchies in action, even if we haven’t realised it. Those little tussles at the bird table, interactions that might seem trivial at the time, are all part of working out dominance. If a bird attempts to feed from a source where a dominant bird is, it is likely to be repelled. Similarly, a bird that is dominant over another individual should be able to supplant it, simply by flying in and stealing its perch. Rarely is there ever genuine violence, because injuries can be disastrous, however fit and powerful a bird might be. Violence is implied by threat. Such hierarchies exist within species. In a population of blue tits, some birds are more dominant than others. All birds are individuals, with strengths and weaknesses. Some are heavier, some more agile, some more inquisitive. If you watch carefully, you can often recognise particular birds by all manner of characteristics. The most obvious hierarchies, though, occur between different species, and these Waterlife



At many of our centres, you can enjoy rare views of reed buntings on our feeders, as they’re tempted out from tall vegetation by white millet

are easy to work out. If you have a flat feeding station, such as a bird table, how often do the small birds scatter when a wood pigeon lands, plonking itself for minutes on end, monopolising the seed? If you are lucky, you might observe great spotted woodpeckers visiting. They stop by several WWT centres, prompting the smaller birds to scatter. The woodpecker doesn’t need to attack them; any violence is implied, not carried out. On the other hand, the ultimate subordinate, the downtrodden among all the birds visiting feeders, is the coal tit. Smaller-bodied than the other tits, you often see it steal in very rapidly at the bottom of an occupied feeder, dashing off before anybody notices it is there. Coal tits spirit the seeds and nuts away and hide them before returning. Even willow tits, diminutive in their own right, are dominant over these waifs. Finches also form hierarchies, but in contrast to tits, which go it alone in winter, they tend to visit in flocks. Thanks to their greater numbers, they can monopolise feeding stations. Members of the flock occupy all the available perches and stay there, munching on seeds. Some of these finches, such as greenfinches, goldfinches and siskins, forage on hanging feeders, in 32



In mixed finch flocks, dominant birds take up position in the middle of the flock, where they benefit from the vigilance of others which case the dominant birds will stay longest and occupy the safest perches. By contrast, chaffinches and bramblings usually feed on the ground, below the feeding station. At several of our centres, they’re joined by reed buntings, with their smart black heads (males) and heavy striping (both sexes). In such flocks, the dominant birds will take a position in the middle of the group, where they benefit from the vigilance of others. The subordinates feed at the edge of the group, an altogether riskier proposition because of the threat of ambush by predators. THE HUNTER

For birds of prey, a feeding station is a fast-food outlet. Nevertheless, the presence of a sparrowhawk, merlin or peregrine is the sign of a healthy bird population. Without reward, the predators wouldn’t be

here. ‘Last year at Llanelli, a juvenile goshawk sat on a log right by the café feeders for most of the day, no doubt hoping for an easy breakfast!’ says Baz. The drama of a sparrowhawk attack is a thrill, albeit one we might have mixed feelings about. However, at several of our centres, a very different type of predator might threaten smaller birds feeding on the ground. ‘I’ve seen it a couple of times,’ says Baz. ‘I was watching a water rail wandering around under a feeding station, seemingly minding its own business, when, quite suddenly, it rushed forward and grabbed a small bird. It then proceeded to eat the poor thing. I knew water rails were omnivorous, but this behaviour was really unusual to see.’ At any feeding station, a water rail would constitute a surprise guest appearance in the blockbuster movie. At WWT centres, unexpected stars turn up quite frequently. So keep your eyes peeled for cameos by green woodpeckers hunting ants below the feeders at Arundel, reed buntings at London, crossbills and hawfinches at Washington, and turtle doves and wrynecks on migration at Welney. The fact is, at a WWT centre’s feeding stations, you could witness almost anything. Just don’t expect to see 18 bullfinches. That’s unlikely to happen again. n



Feeders hang in the woodland loop area of the reserve with good views from the Woodland Lodge Hide. In autumn and winter, look for common species such as blue, great and coal tits, goldfinches and chaffinches, with occasional redpolls, great spotted woodpeckers and bullfinches. Watch nearby yews for hawfinches, redwings, mistle thrushes and jays eating berries.

CAERLAVEROCK The best time

to watch the feeding station on the Sir Peter Scott Trail is in the morning when it’s visited by tree sparrows, long-tailed and coal tits, chaffinches, siskins and dunnocks, with the occasional flyby from a sparrowhawk. Look below the feeder for water rails pecking around. You’ll see some of the same species on the bird feeder at the entrance to the centre, as well as bramblings and jackdaws.

LLANELLI The café offers the

from the Willow Hide. Reed buntings can be seen here, along with the usual tits, sparrows and finches, which also frequent the feeders near the Kingfisher Hide.

MARTIN MERE The Janet Kear

Hide is great for watching wrens and reed buntings scouring our log pile for seeds. We provide peanuts for great spotted woodpeckers, niger seed for goldfinches and the occasional siskin, millet for tree sparrows (the best views are had at the Tower feeding station) and sunflower hearts for finches and tits. If you’re lucky, bramblings, redpolls and coal tits will also show up. The Kingfisher Hide has good views over our bird table and feeders, which attract a similar range of species, plus rarities such as willow tits and linnets in the bramble bushes.


The feeders at Hawthorn Wood and the visitor centre

are at their busiest on winter mornings. As well as the usual species, you may spot coal and Red-Listed willow tits, bullfinches and siskins. Last winter, 17 bramblings were seen, as well as lesser and mealy redpolls. Watch out for sparrowhawks, jays, great spotted woodpeckers, nuthatches, reed buntings, treecreepers and dunnocks. On rare occasions, hawfinches, crossbills and green woodpeckers turn up, while tree sparrows visit the feeders at the visitor centre.


From the windows at the welcome foyer, pond room and Wigeon Café, you can enjoy good views of our feeders. As well as the usual garden birds, the feeders are visited year round by tree sparrows and reed buntings, and hunting sparrowhawks regularly fly by. Moorhens and mallards pick up any spilled seeds, and during cold spells they’re joined by water rails and even a snipe. Redpolls and bramblings might show up in December.

best views of our feeding station. In winter, there are also feeders near the Sir Peter Scott Hide and on the path to the Heron’s Wing Hide. Jays, great spotted woodpeckers, coal tits and jackdaws are often seen, while winter highlights include bramblings by the café and a water rail under the Millennium Wetlands feeders. Mallards, moorhens, shelducks and gadwalls are seen foraging below.

LONDON Winter is the best time of

year for watching our feeders from the Wildside Hide and the South Route. Winter highlights include bramblings, siskins and a water rail beneath the feeders. You may even see reed buntings, which are declining nationally.


October to February offers reliable sightings of up to four water rails foraging beneath our feeders

If you’re lucky, you may be treated to a glimpse of a willow tit – a specialist that lives in wet woodland and willow carr – on one of our feeders OCTOBER/DECEMBER 2019





great white bird lifts off on an autumn day, beating its wings over boggy pools, lava deserts and spouting geysers before setting out across the open ocean. The whooper swan from Iceland, which will touch down at Caerlaverock and many other WWT centres for winter, completes the longest sea crossing of any swan species. This bird is just one of a million birds making this journey. On a northern front that stretches from Canada in the west, through to Greenland, Iceland, northernmost Norway and the




tundra of Siberia way out to the east, vast numbers of waterbirds are migrating south to flee the cold. They fly in a funnel, drawn down inexorably to the comparatively warm estuaries and wetlands of the UK. For most, this is their destination. For others, this funnel is an hourglass. They feed for a while here at its waist before descending towards Iberia and Africa.


Conservationists have long recognised the importance of this avian highway, which we call the Northwest European flyway. The routes are fixed yet flexible, logical and

yet absurd. We are still trying to understand their significance and, crucially, tackle the threats along the way that imperil the very existence of some of these species. The more we learn about migration routes, the more perplexing they become. More than 10,000 years ago, red knot in Canada followed the melt from the Ice Age to the British Isles. Today, it would seem to be far safer to escape harsh conditions by inching down the coastline of North America, refuelling at estuaries along the way, instead of crossing a storm-tossed ocean. But as Geoff Hilton, our Head of Conservation Science, explains: ‘Red knots

Wild Wonders of Europe/Unterthiner/NPL


In late autumn, whooper swans arrive from Iceland to spend the winter in Britain and Ireland. They undertake probably the longest sea crossing of any swan species, flying up to 1,400km without stopping

HOME don’t have maps. They’re just doing what they’ve always done. It looks daft – it probably is daft – but tradition is strong.’ Every red knot you see huddled on an estuary this autumn has its own built-in satnav. Although they all look identical, they may have come here by different routes from Canada, Greenland, Iceland or Siberia. Some may feed up for only a few weeks before flying on towards West Africa. In common with many other species, red knot have multiple flyways, and individual populations have discrete aerial pathways. We cannot see them, but they are there.

Even more puzzling is an estuary-feeding black-tailed godwit on the south coast of England. Is it a migrant from Iceland, or did it hatch at Welney? The Icelandic bird will stay here all winter, but the UK-raised godwit risks its life to fly to West Africa. You have to wonder why they make such a journey when surely everything a godwit needs is right here. SOLWAY SUCCESS

Life for the birds on the flyway today is a story of past successes, present problems and future uncertainty. The positives are incredibly positive. Numbers of

Some of the waterbirds that spend the winter at our centres fly thousands of miles to the UK from as far away as Canada and Russia. Thanks to you, we’re working to protect these magnificent migrants on every step of their incredible journeys

whooper swans and Svalbard barnacle geese have soared on the Solway. Geoff explains: ‘They have benefited from reduced and better-regulated hunting, an increase in food at their wintering grounds and the creation of wildfowl refuges such as Special Protection Areas that save them from disturbance. The Svalbard barnacle goose may still be recovering from just after World War II, when the world population was down to just a few hundred birds. Only shooting bans and the establishment of a refuge at Caerlaverock saved this goose from global extinction.’ OCTOBER/DECEMBER 2019








We’ve been protecting the waterbirds that use the Northwest European flyway since 1946. Here are six of the migrants that follow the flyway to our centres – and beyond – in winter

James Lees/WWT


Juha Soininen/WWT


Bewick’s swan

whooper swan








white-fronted goose

James Lees/WWT

James Lees/WWT


James Lees/WWT


red knot



There are unseen and largely unquantifiable killers among the fishing nets that drown pochards, scoters, longtailed ducks and any other bird that dives for its food. Current research suggests that collisions with wind farms are generally so rare that they are not a problem for most waterbird populations; we are much less sure about power lines that act as invisible obstacles pinned up in the sky. Unknown numbers of ground-feeding birds are snaffled by introduced raccoons, raccoon dogs and mink in Fennoscandia and elsewhere that have escaped from fur farms. And natural gregariousness, including the flocking behaviour that pulls wildfowl together at refuges, can bring death when bird flu spreads. Hunting remains a tricky issue. In most parts of Europe, we simply don’t know how many birds get shot, so it’s 38



Our goal is to make sure that all countries along the flyway can draw on the same level of expertise, the same resources impossible to make any kind of management decisions about what numbers are sustainable. Not all the hunting is legal. Greenland white-fronted geese are protected along the full length of their migration, but when we examine their bodies, we find that a significant proportion have been shot at some point in their lives. Were these cases of mistaken identity? Sheer ignorance of the law? Or were they deliberate acts flouting the measures taken to protect them? Geoff is positive about strengthening such protection where it’s lacking: ‘We’ve

meet our migrants

e our come and se This autumn, vel at ar m d an rants amazing mig have journeys that the incredible s. nd la et to our w brought them m fro ay W Your Turn to Down t. your next visi an pl to 45 page

built a good infrastructure for protecting waterbird populations across much of western Europe. Now our goal is to make sure that all countries along the flyway can draw on the same level of expertise, the same resources. We want to share what we’ve learned at WWT over the past 75 years and target our efforts in places where we can make the most difference, such as Eastern Europe and West Africa.’ One extra factor is also rising to prominence. Until the 1980s, 5,000 to 6,000 European white-fronted geese would visit Slimbridge every year. Today, the figure is more like 200. Climate change-influenced milder winters mean that the geese are choosing to winter in continental Europe. A single harsh winter does not bring the birds back; the severe winter of 2009-2010 pushed the Slimbridge count to just over 400 birds. It is clear that the geese are making generation-by-generation decisions about where and when to go. As the climate changes and alters the nature of habitats, birds on the flyway will be making more of these long-term decisions. As Geoff puts it: ‘Our plan is to ensure that everything else is good on the flyway, so that the birds are in a better position to cope with the changes that the climate crisis brings. If you can make sure the stepping stones are in good condition, you can help migrant birds make choices about whether to shorten or lengthen their journeys.’ n

David Kjaer/NPL

The flyway is only as strong as its weakest link and, in addition to natural hazards, humans present a whole range of threats along the way. Many of the wetlands that act as vital staging posts on the migrants’ long journeys are blighted by eutrophication – as aquatic plants are replaced by algal blooms, often caused by run-off from agricultural fertilisers, the aquatic insects that eat the plants, and the waterbirds that eat either the plants or the insects, are denied food. It’s an issue that affects the whole land-linked route from the Baltic countries to the UK.

The pintail – a handsome dabbling duck – breeds in the northern areas of Europe, Asia and North America. Our resident population is boosted by an influx of visiting birds in winter

Try photographing your subject – here a harvest mouse – in both landscape and portrait formats. Sometimes the shape of the mammal will suit one more than the other


MAMMAL PORTRAITS In our new course for nature photography enthusiasts, wildlife photographer David Tipling offers his helpful tips to improve your wetland wildlife pictures at our centres

Images by David Tipling


hotographing mammals is not without its challenges. The elusive nature of many species can mean encounters are fleeting. But help is at hand. Your local WWT centre offers exciting opportunities to photograph species you might only dream of seeing elsewhere. Otters and water voles are regularly seen at Arundel and London, while our brown hare walks will get you closer to these fleet-footed furballs at Martin Mere and Welney. But that’s only half the job. Not only should you be in the right place, you should also be prepared. A few seconds fumbling around in excited panic as your subject swims or runs past can leave you frustrated and photo-less, 40



so have your camera switched on and with the appropriate settings ready to take pictures. Mastering good fieldcraft is important. Stay quiet, move slowly, keep low and avoid showing your silhouette above the skyline to have the best chance of seeing shy mammals. Wind direction can be crucial. Some species are quick to pick up the human scent, so approach from downwind whenever you can. Fieldcraft goes hand in hand with knowledge. Swot up and you could learn how to identify where an otter has stopped to mark its territory by leaving a spraint, or recognise a water vole feeding platform. These insights will help you to develop amazing opportunities to take your best photos.

r MAKE EYE CONTACT When we look at a photograph of an animal, it’s the eyes we focus on first, so it’s important that they are in sharp focus. If you can manage to take a picture where the animal is looking directly at the camera, then eye contact can make your image more emotionally powerful, as with this adorable harvest mouse.


Your wild photos

Brown hare

r GET ON THE LEVEL Don’t look down on your subject to take a photo. Being at the same level adds an intimacy to your pictures that is lost when photographing from higher up. Try kneeling or lying down, and be prepared to crawl through the grass if you need to. If you have a pet, you can experiment with this approach and see how it improves your photos.

EYES ONLY FOR YOU Sometimes it’s worth getting up early and visiting your local WWT centre. These great crested grebes were just getting to know each other. Rob Rowley



In the April/June edition of Waterlife, you said you’d love to see what people have photographed, so here are the greater flamingos at Martin Mere. Hope you like them. Sandy Finnie

r BE READY FOR ACTION If you’re lucky enough to witness interaction between two individuals, such as these otters, try to keep your shutter speed high to freeze the action. As a guide, 1/1,000 sec should be enough, but go higher if the light is good enough.

WHAT A STUNNER! I enjoyed my first visit to WWT Slimbridge. The male smew is so beautiful – but fast! I photographed the constant action of the tufted ducks, gulls and scaups while I waited for him to stay still. Andrew Hankinson Water vole

r TRY TO PREDICT BEHAVIOUR This water vole was collecting bedding. Such behaviour is often repeated, so it’s worth sitting and waiting for another chance to nail the shot. These situations also allow you to try a variety of techniques, such as varying the focal length for both close portraits and wider animal-in-its-environment pictures.

We love to see what you’ve photographed at our centres. Please send your best shots to Waterlife and they could be published in a future issue. Just email your high-res images and a short story about what you photographed to waterlife@wwt.org.uk. We can’t wait to see what you can do!





Hello again

Have you ever gone on a big journey? Perhaps you’ve moved house or gone on holiday hundreds of miles away. What if you knew your journey would be dangerous? Wouldn’t you prepare as much as you possibly could? Millions of birds are on big journeys right now, heading our way from faraway lands. The places where they spent the summer will soon be covered in snow, so they fly here to escape much tougher winters. Those long flights are the riskiest thing they will ever do, but birds can do some incredible things to get ready.

What to pack? Before you set off, you need to have enough food to keep you going. Birds don’t have bags or cases, but they can store energyrich food as fat in their bodies. They’ll burn it up as they fly. All that fuel makes them heavier than usual – some migrating birds will lift off at almost twice their normal weight. A bird already loaded with fuel can’t afford to carry excess baggage, so here’s an amazing fact – they shrink their guts, their liver and their stomach shortly before they set off. That way they’ve reduced their weight, although it does mean they can’t eat while their digestive parts are shrivelled.




Steve a l l B ac k s h Redwings feed up in preparation for their long flight from Scandinavia to the UK for the winter

Ready, steady… Our calendars tell us when it’s time to go, but how do birds know? They notice the days are getting shorter and the nights are longer. They see plants dying off and fewer insects. And every day, it’s getting that bit colder. These signs tell them to go on a feeding binge. In just a few weeks, they build up their fat reserves. Birds wait for just the right conditions to launch into the air. They might want strong winds at their back that will blow them south. Some head off during the day, but others such as redwings migrate by night when predators can’t see them.


About 4,000 species of bird migrate – that’s around four in every 10 bird species in the whole world. Despite all the dangers, it must be worth it for so many to make these epic voyages every year.

Which way? Without maps, compasses or a satnav, how do birds know where to go? Tiny waders such as red knots hatch in Greenland during the summer. How do they find their way to WWT Caerlaverock on the Solway Coast when they’ve never been there before? Swans and geese fly in formation and younger birds follow the older ones that have been this way before. But many migratory birds know by instinct which direction to take and how long they need to fly for to reach their destination. Birds are incredible navigators with an inbuilt GPS, but we don’t really understand exactly how it works. We do know that nightflying migrants follow the stars. Day-flying birds work out where

How do birds such as red knots know where to spend the winter?

they are by the position of the sun in the sky. If it’s cloudy, ducks may even fly above the clouds so they can see the sun. Just like us, birds use landmarks to guide them. They might fly along a coastline, up a river, or even along a motorway (but not on it). The Earth has a gigantic magnetic field at the North Pole. Birds have an internal compass that enables them to work out if they are flying to or from the pole – north or south.


The great snipe, a Scandinavian cousin of our own snipe, is the world’s long-haul speed champion, reaching 95kmph on its staggering 6,800km migration to southern Africa.

Finish Next time you see a migrant bird at a WWT centre or other nature reserve, just think about the astonishing journey it made to get there. And wish it good luck for the trip back next spring.

Get in touch

Email your wetland stories and photos to waterlife@wwt.org.uk. Or write to Dusty at Waterlife, WWT, Slimbridge, Gloucestershire GL2 7BT


One of the highest-flying

migrants are bar-headed geese, which pass over the Himalayas on their way to India. When they soar over the world’s tallest mountain range, they can be almost nine kilometres above sea level. Our wetlands provide vital refuelling stations for migrant swans

Service station On a long car journey, you must stop to rest and refuel, and so do most migrant birds. Waterbirds such as swans, geese and waders find a wetland, like a lake or marsh, where they can top up on water plants and insects. Birds that shrink their guts to travel light have to grow them again before they can refuel. Then, when they’ve had enough, off they go again.


tailed godwits ca fly 11,000km withoutn stopping even once – amazing!




As autumn slides into winter, don’t stay at home. Your local WWT centre has lots of ways you can enjoy the changing seasons – and start feeling festive!

Map illustration by Fred Van Deelen






5-6 October Celebrate the return of light-bellied brent geese to Strangford Lough at our Big Brent Event. This special weekend is packed with exciting activities for everyone, including a NEW Incredible Journey trail around our reserve, sensory sessions, art workshops and birdwatching mornings for experienced birders.

In November and December Christmas is just around the corner, and a visit to your local centre is sure to put you and your family in the festive spirit. From husky-pulled sleighs (London) to sail boats to Santa (Martin Mere and Arundel), and Elf Academy (Washington) to Santa’s swan feeds (Llanelli), there’s something to enchant everyone. So let the festivities begin in style...


LEGO® BRICK ANIMAL TRAIL Until Sunday 3 November This October half-term, our GIANT LEGO Brick Animal Trail returns with three NEW animal models never before seen at WWT Llanelli. There are also LEGO brick play tables for you to make your own creations and our popular LEGO Brick Workshops, where you can make a LEGO brick owl.



Open now! Travel back in time and step into the 1950s home of WWT founder Sir Peter Scott. The house has been restored and is now open for daily guided tours. You can also book to stay in the Bewick’s Lodge luxury accommodation upstairs (see page 22).


Harley Todd

Barry Batchelor/WWT

For the full list of centre events, information and news, find your local centre at wwt.org.uk/visit

29, 30 and 31 October This October sees the return of our ghastly Nauseating Nature Trail (all month) and nerve-tingling Nature Fright Nights. Spend the evening on the reserve learning its darkest secrets. Search for bats, listen to stories by lamplight and make potions at our cabin in the woods. It’s frightful fun!

What wildlife did you see on your last visit to your local WWT centre? We love to hear about your best sightings and see your photos, so email them to waterlife@wwt.org.uk today!



Wetland Discovery Boat Safari What will you spot on this guided trail through the reedbeds? First boat 11am; last boat 4.30pm (3.30pm Nov to Dec). Suggested donation £1. Pond Dipping Go pond dipping in our Pond Explorer Station with the WWT Learning team on hand to help ID your catch! Closes for the season on 3 Nov. 11am-1pm and 2-4pm. Diving Duck Feed Our sea ducks show off their diving brilliance as they zip through the water after fishy treats daily at the Icelandic Lake pen. 2pm. Hand-feeding Bay With seed in your hand and rare birds from around the world at your feet, giggles of delight are inevitable. Feed grain costs 20p per handful from the vending machine. Guide in the Hide Our guides help you see what’s through the scopes. Locations

FAMILY FUN At night, WWT Arundel comes alive thanks to our resident barn owls, a healthy bat population and eels of all sizes wriggling through our ditches. This October half-term, you’re invited to discover our


BN18 9PB 01903 881530

info.arundel@wwt.org.uk WWT Arundel


GET CLOSER TO WILDLIFE From October, you can see one of the UK’s most exciting birds at WWT Arundel. Last autumn, our reedbeds were host to the largest roost of marsh harriers in Sussex, with an amazing eight individuals making themselves at home. Look for them on winter afternoons from 3.30pm from the Scrape and Reedbed Hides. Watch out for pied wagtails and little egrets roosting on-site. On 16 November, Arundel stays open until 6pm to allow you vary. Weekends only. 10.30am-1pm and 2-4pm.

deep water at the Ramsar Hide. From the hides, to enjoy the entire Marsh harrier look out for the influx of roosting spectacle. water rails and secretive Kingfisher sightings snipes at the edges of the increase in autumn, peaking in December and January when the reeds, while wintering shelducks and shovelers will be out on weather is coldest and the birds’ the water. Check the hedgerows traditional fishing spots freeze along the long walk for vibrant over. Look for them flying circuits firecrests and goldcrests, and of the reserve, then resting on in December redwings and perches near the hides. They fieldfares move through looking particularly like to perch on hand for berries. Bullfinches are rails near the boat jetty and fish bolder in the cold weather and for roach and rudd in the water therefore easier to spot. below. Another good spot is the

Sat 5 & Sun 6 Oct Discover Birds Weekend Welcome our winter migrants on a weekend of walks, talks and activities. 10am-4pm.

Sats 19 Oct & 23 Nov Begin Woodcarving Workshop Learn the basics of woodcarving. Create a simple bird sculpture (Oct – wagtail; Nov – tern) to paint and take home. 10am-4pm. £48, includes admission. BE

Suns 13 Oct, 10 Nov & 8 Dec Bentley Wildlife Carvers Displays The Wildlife Wood Carvers display work and demonstrate carving. 10am-4pm.

Sat 19 or Sun 20 Oct Beginning Photography with Ben Cherry This workshop is a solid foundation for you to build on or to brush up on your photography fundamentals.


Nocturnal Nature for yourself, in broad daylight. Try dissecting an owl pellet to see what our owls have been eating, follow our batty trail and try your hand at creepy crafts. And if you’re keen for more adventure, make sure you go pond dipping at the

Pond Explorer Station before it closes for the winter. Our popular Sail to Santa event is back this Christmas. On 7-8 and 14-15 December, children can board an elf-powered boat for a unique ride through the reedbeds. Try Santa’s ‘Naughty or Nice

10am-4pm. Sat full day: £70; Sun half day: £40. BE online only. Sat 26 Oct to Sun 3 Nov Nocturnal Nature Explore creatures of the night in the safety of daylight. Try owl pellet dissection, pond dipping, creepy crafts and a Nocturnal Nature trail. Sat 16 to Sun 17 Nov Winter Wellness Weekend Try free taster sessions on mindfulness, yoga and more to stay healthy and stress-free.

O-meter’ before you get onboard, then enjoy the magic of a festive visit inside our frosty grotto and receive a gift from the WWT shop.

Sail to Santa through the reedbeds

Sat 16 Nov Evening Roost Opening We stay open to see the marsh harriers and more come in for the evening roost. Until 6pm. Sat 7 to Sun 8 & Sat 14 to Sun 15 Dec Sail to Santa Board an elf-driven boat to visit Father Christmas. £6PC, £2PP. Visit website to book. Fri 13 & Sat 14 Dec Wreath Making Craft a gorgeous seasonal wreath at these half-day workshops. £15PP (does not include centre admission). BE Sat 21 Dec Early Bird Opening We open the doors at 8am for the chance to visit when the reserve is quiet. The café opens at 9.30am. Wed 1 Jan 2020 Tick ’n’ Twitch New year, new birds! Start your 2020 list with us and enter our draw for a recorder notebook, ID book and monocular.

BE Booking Essential RI Refreshments Included WP Weather Permitting PC/PP Per Child/Person Centre events are subject to change. Please phone for further information or visit the WWT website wwt.org.uk/visit/arundel /caerlaverock /castleespie /llanelli /london /martinmere /slimbridge /washington /welney. OCTOBER/DECEMBER 2019



Paul Jarvis/WWT

See below for key. Events may change – visit our website for up-to-date info




Wild Swan Feeds Learn about the wild whooper swans that visit every winter. Many swans are ringed – enter the ring number on our touchscreen to find out more about the swan. Watch the behaviour of the swans being fed as they ‘whoop’, bob and flap in territorial displays. 11am and 2pm. Free for members. Guide in the Hide While out and about on the reserve, chat to our friendly volunteers who can give you information about the wildlife and what is going on at the centre. 10am-5pm.

GET CLOSER TO WILDLIFE Come along to our Wild Goose Weekend to celebrate the return of thousands of barnacle geese and pink-footed geese to the Solway, as part of the local Scotland and the Arctic festival. In October, welcome the newly arrived whooper swans from Iceland and follow the action as our named birds return! Absorb the sights and sounds of the busy Wild Swan Feeds, which take place throughout the winter.

Until Sat 26 Oct Exhibition by Dumfries Camera Club An exhibition of a range of photographs all taken locally. 10am-5pm.

Suns 13 Oct, 10 Nov & 1 Dec Dawn Flight Get up early to see thousands of wild geese flying in from the Solway mudflats to feed on our reserve. Bring warm clothes, binoculars and a torch. 13 Oct 6.45am; 10 Nov 6.30am; 1 Dec 7am. BE

Sat 12 to Sun 13 Oct Wild Goose Weekend Celebrate the return of the wild geese to the Solway with talks, walks, workshops and family activities all about these birds. Part of the local Dumfries event ‘Scotland and the Arctic’, it includes stories in our yurt! 10am-5pm.

Weds 16 & 23 Oct Broomstick Flight Training Learn to fly a broomstick before taking to the sky and flying the perilous journey from Iceland to Caerlaverock, following the swans and dodging obstacles as you go. Can you land safely to get your broomstick pilot licence? 11.30am-1pm. BE


Sam Stafford/WWT

FAMILY FUN Celebrate the return of our wild geese to the Solway Firth at our Wild Goose Weekend on 12-13 October. Get out on the wetlands, taking in the sights and sounds of thousands of barnacle geese! Watch skeins of pinkfooted geese and learn how

DG1 4RS 01387 770200

info.caerlaverock@wwt.org.uk WWT Caerlaverock


Then watch the unique spectacle of thousands of Barnacle barnacle geese goose flighting in from the Solway mudflats at one of our monthly guided Dawn Flight events. If that’s too early for you, you can watch the geese in the fields during the daytime, along with the wide variety of wintering waterfowl that make Caerlaverock their winter home, such as curlews, lapwings, little egrets, wigeons, teals, shovelers and many more!

Sat 26 Oct Potions Explore the reserve, looking for the ingredients for your potion, then cook up a spell with the Wetland Wizard! 11.30am-1pm. BE

Wader Quest’s Andrew Whitelee will give a talk on waders and after lunch there will be a Wader Workshop out on the reserve to see flocks of waders on the high tide. 11am-3pm.

Sun 27 Oct to Sat 14 Dec Wildlife Photo Exhibition by Viktor Seifert An exhibition of photography by 12-year-old Viktor Seifert, who has been shortlisted three times for the British Wildlife Photography Award. 10am-5pm.

Sun 3 Nov In Focus Try before you buy the latest binoculars and telescopes. In Focus experts are on hand to give advice. The centre benefits from every sale. 10am-4pm.

Sat 2 Nov Wader Day Take part in the Wader Conservation World Watch!

Fris 8 Nov & 6 Dec Stories in the Yurt Sit in our cosy yurt and listen to a nature-related story told by one of our storytellers.

Meet the Caerlaverock to distinguish them from the whooper swans at our daily other six species of geese Wild Swan Feeds. Read a seen in the region. Listen to swan ring and look it up on our fascinating tales in the yurt database to learn more about about geese and other the individual swan. wildlife, as part of Listen to Halloween turns the Scotland storytellers in the October and the the yurt holidays totally Arctic spooktacular! festival in Complete Dumfries.

Alex Hillier

See page 47 for key. Events may change – visit our website for up-to-date info


Then take a short walk to look for wildlife. 10.3011.30am. BE Sat 16 Nov Wildlife Photography Workshop Learn how to take stunning photos of wetland wildlife. Experienced tutors Tom Langlands and Bob Fitzsimmons will help you get the most out of your camera and take better shots. 9.30am-4pm. £75PP. BE Sat 7 Dec Christmas Craft Afternoon Wander around the reserve collecting natural materials to create festive crafts for the home. 1-3pm. £2PP. BE Sun 15 Dec to Sat 25 Jan 2020 From Woods to Water Exhibition by Kerry Thomas Kerry specialises in creating mainly landscapes, seascapes and woodland scenes using wool and other fibres in a process called needle-felting. 10am-5pm. Free. Wed 1 Jan 2020 New Year’s Day Bird Race Start the year by challenging our warden to see how many bird species you can spot in a day. 10am-5pm. Normal admission charges; WWT members free.

your Broomstick Flight Training to get your licence, while learning about the amazing migration our whooper swans make to reach Caerlaverock. Collect natural ingredients on the reserve to cook up a spell to save the wetlands at our Potions event with the Wetland Wizard.






Castle Espie

BT23 6EA 028 9187 4146 info.castleespie@wwt.org.uk WWT Castle Espie

wwt.org.uk/castle-espie Enjoy the spooky goings-on this Halloween


See page 47 for key. Events may change – visit our website for up-to-date info


Until Sun 24 Nov Incredible Journey Trail Celebrate the return of our favourite Arctic arrivals, the light-bellied brent geese, on our Incredible Journey trail this autumn. Pick up a compass at reception. Sun 1 Dec to Fri 28 Feb 2020 Wild Welly Walks Run, splash and play throughout winter with our Wild Welly Walks. All day. With admission.


Sat 5 & Sun 6 Oct Big Brent Event Celebrate the return of thousands of brent geese to Strangford Lough through a range of workshops, tours and family fun! Times vary. See website for details.

Anderson and expert birdwatching mornings for experienced, keen birders. Take flight this Halloween with our Spellbound Festival. From 29-31 October, you can learn to fly a broomstick, make potions and enjoy frightfully spooky storytelling. We have plenty of other frightful fun this half-term, including a new nauseating nature trail, face painting, wetland crafts and more! A magical Christmas awaits you this December at

Tues 29 to Thurs 31 Oct Spellbound Festival Take flight this Halloween with broomstick flight training, spooky storytelling and potion making. Plus plenty of frightful fun during half-term with our NEW Nauseating Nature trail and more! Times vary. With admission. Last Weds of Every Month Birdwatch Morning Join one of our experts for a special morning dedicated to birdwatching. 10.30-11.30am. With admission. BE First Weds of Every Month (Oct & Nov) Little Ducklings Day A morning for mums, dads and tots in our soft play area. 10.30-11.30am. Adults £5, children free. BE RI Sat 7, Sun 8, Sat 14, Sun 15, Fri 20, Sat 21, Sun 22 & Mon 23 Dec Christmas at Castle Espie Enjoy a fun-filled Christmas at Castle Espie! See website for details. BE

‘A lovely way to spend a morning or afternoon. The views over Strangford Lough are wonderful and the birdlife is abundant.’ Hannah T

Castle Espie. Visit our beautiful grotto and meet Papa Elf as he prepares for a busy festive season of making toys for Santa to deliver on Christmas Eve.

You can even meet Santa. Enjoy festive storytelling on the reserve and a reindeer trail and crafts! But be quick and make sure to book – tickets sell out very early.

GET CLOSER TO WILDLIFE From September, we welcome around 25,000 light-bellied brent geese back to Strangford Lough after their gruelling 3,000mile journey from the high Arctic. Join us as their numbers reach their peak on 5-6 October to celebrate their return at the Big Brent Event. Marvel at the sight of 25,000 brent geese

Our now fully renovated Brent Discovery Hide is the perfect place to watch and listen to these remarkable birds, which are lured back each year by the lough’s abundant eelgrass. Keep your eyes peeled for wigeon, black-tailed godwit and redshank, all regular visitors at this time of year. If you’re lucky, you may even hear the beating wings of whooper swans overhead! The transition from autumn to winter can also be seen in the woodlands, where the changing colours of the trees ensure no two visits are the same. All of our sightings are noted on our website and social media channels, and we love to hear from our visitors too, so don’t forget to share your sightings with us when you visit.





Join us on 5-6 October as we celebrate the return of 80% of the world’s lightbellied brent geese to Strangford Lough with our Big Brent Event. Experience their incredible 3,000-mile journey from the Arctic through activities including a NEW Incredible Journey trail around our reserve, sensory sessions by Mini Explorers NI, and family-friendly guide in the hide sessions. This year’s event also includes art workshops by Bernice


LLANELLI WETLAND CENTRE DAILY ACTIVITIES Monday Munchkins Every Monday during term time, bring your toddlers for activities including pond dipping, crafts and feeding the birds. 11am-12 noon.

EVENTS Until Sun 3 Nov GIANT LEGO® Brick Animal Trail Over 254,000 LEGO bricks were used to make all 14 giant characters in our wetland animal family! Discover them all on this outdoor trail. Sat 5 to Sun 20 Oct October Weekend Fun LEGO brick trail – all day, self-guided; minibeast hunt and pond dip – 11am-12 noon; guide in the hide – 1-2pm in the Heron’s Wing Hide; pond dipping – 3pm; crafts – 3.30pm. Every Sun (Oct to Nov) Follow the Feed Join a warden on the afternoon bird feed. Watch as hundreds of ducks and geese swim and splash in pursuit of their meal before the feeding frenzy begins! Suitable for all the family. Wheelchair and pushchair accessible. 3.30pm.

Sat 26 Oct to Sun 3 Nov LEGO Brick Workshops Take part in our workshops and enjoy a team activity plus an individual challenge before building a LEGO brick mini owl. 10-11am and 2-3pm. We’ll run smaller workshops for children with additional needs on Sun 27 and Weds 30 Oct at 3.30pm. Online booking essential. £10PP, not including admission. Adult helpers can watch for free. Sat 9 to Sat 30 Nov November Weekend Fun Den building – all day, selfguided; family birdwatching –11-11.45am in the Observatory; crane talk – 12.30-1pm; guide in the hide – 1-1.45pm in the Heron’s Wing Hide; crafts – 2.30pm. Sun 1 to Sun 15 Dec December Weekend Fun Den building – all day, self-guided; wildfowl wonders workshop – 11am–12 noon; guide in the hide – 1-1.45pm in the Heron’s Wing Hide; crafts – 2.30pm. Sun 1 to Sun 22 Dec Feed the Birds With Father Christmas Join Father Christmas on Sundays to help him feed our collection birds. Fully pushchair and wheelchair accessible. 2.45pm.

SA14 9SH 01554 741087 info.llanelli@wwt.org.uk

WWT Llanelli

wwt.org.uk/llanelli Sat 7 & Sun 8 Dec Natural Decorations Workshops Join an expert to make your own Christmas decorations from natural materials gathered in the wetlands. 1-4pm, £15PP (admission not included). Suns 15 & 22 Dec Robin Nest Box Workshop Find out more about the birds in your garden and make a robin nest box. Drop in 11am-12 noon and 1-4pm. £10 per box made (admission not included). Sat 21 Dec to Mon 6 Jan 2020 Christmas Holiday Fun Den building – all day, self-guided; wildfowl wonders workshop – 11am12 noon; family birdwatching –1-1.45pm in the Observatory; crafts – 2.30pm. New Year’s Day Tick & Twitch Get your 2020 list off to a flying start as you try and spot as many species of bird as possible. There will be guides on hand to answer your questions and point you in the right direction. Submit your list to the Info Desk and you could win a great prize!


This October half-term, discover 14 giant LEGO® brick animals on our fantastic trail. Look out for three NEW models never seen before at WWT Llanelli, posing among their real-life cousins in our beautiful wetlands. Feeling creative? Our LEGO brick play tables are ready for you to make your own amazing creations inspired by our wetland wildlife. There are also exciting LEGO Brick Workshops – with team and individual challenges – where you can make a LEGO brick owl to take home. These workshops are very popular, so please book online in advance to avoid disappointment. This year there will be two relaxed, smaller workshops for children with additional needs – check our website for full details. Every weekend in November, we have special family activities including fun birdwatching sessions, fascinating talks about our beautiful red-crowned cranes, and seasonal crafts. Each Sunday, from 1-22 December, at 2.45pm, Father Christmas will be taking a break from his workshop and helping us feed our collection birds. Our popular wildfowl wonders workshops return every weekend. Find out all about our awesome wetland birds See Father Christmas and their very feeding our collection birds special habitat.

Richard Taylor-Jones/WWT

GET CLOSER TO WILDLIFE sun. The estuary is important As winter approaches, it can for handsome pintail ducks be tempting to stay indoors, and leggy wading birds, but wetland wildlife is at its including oystercatchers, best at this time of year. So greenshanks and blackwrap up warm and enjoy the tailed godwits, which feed wild beauty of the reserve. on the energy-rich mudflats. Our wintering bird visitors In the Millennium Wetlands, have arrived, with wildfowl look closely for such as pochards and camouflaged snipe wigeons looking Little egrets roosting on the splendid in the low roost in the trees

stony islands by the Peter Scott Hide, and kingfishers hunting from the perches. As the reedbeds turn from vibrant green to yellow brown, you may even spot our hard-working volunteers deep in the undergrowth, managing this dynamic habitat for next year’s lapwings and other wildlife.

As nights draw in, look for little egrets roosting in the trees around the shore. Among their ranks, you may spot the much larger great white egret or even a bittern. As dusk approaches, listen out for the thin ‘tzeep’ of redwings overhead, and look for bats flitting against the sky on warm evenings.





See page 47 for key. Events may change – visit our website for up-to-date info





SW13 9WT 020 8409 4400 info.london@wwt.org.uk WWT London

WETLAND CENTRE See page 47 for key. Events may change – visit our website for up-to-date info

binoculars/telescope to get the most out of the walk. 9.30-11am. £20.50PP, plus admission to the centre. The price includes breakfast in our café. RI BE

Join a daily Spotlight Talk to learn about some of our most charismatic birds, such as this nene goose


Spotlight Talks Join us for our daily Spotlight Talks to discover more about the history of the centre and the animals that live here. Please see the blackboard in the courtyard for information.

Sat 12 Oct Members’ Walk: Fungi Go on this autumnal stroll around the reserve to see what fascinating fungi is lurking under the leaves, among the fields or on trees. You’ll be introduced to the marvellous world of mushrooms and learn how to identify a range of species. 1pm and 2pm. £2.50PP. BE

Bird Feed with a Warden Join a warden on weekends as they feed the beautiful and endangered birds in World Wetlands. Otter Feed Meet the otters at feeding time, when our warden will tell you more about them. Duck Tales Feed our domestic ducks with their own special grain and learn more about them from one of our wardens. set based on the annual BBC television series. Explore the reserve looking for wildlife and then present your findings on our set.

Autumnwatch and Winterwatch Experience Become a wildlife researcher and presenter in our WWT

Sat 12 Oct Autumn Wildlife Photography Course Photograph the wetland’s


autumnal colour and abundant wildlife with practical guidance and tuition from wildlife photographer and tutor Iain Green. Discover and learn about seasonal specialities of the reserve and how to photograph them. 10am-4pm. £60.50PP, plus paid admission to the centre. BE

Sat 12 Oct Winter Birdwatching Walk Our coldest season is a wonderful time to visit WWT London Wetland Centre, with the colourful winter birds decked out in their finest plumage. Our warden will guide you around the reserve to see what’s about and give you tips on fieldcraft and bird ID. Please bring your own

Oct Half-term Sat 19 Oct to Sun 3 Nov Wildlife Researcher Come along and have fun with the new exciting activities around our nature reserve. You will need all your special detective skills to find our winter visitors. And there is more – grab a net and search for the animals that live in the pond and/or build your very own leaf hero to take home! 10.30am2.45pm. Free. Suns 20 Oct & 17 Nov Winter Carvery Join us for a relaxing Sunday lunch overlooking the lake and its spectacular wildlife. Enjoy two delicious courses of James Lees/WWT

Wild Walk Experience Escape the concrete pathways and take a step closer to nature. Venture through different types of ‘wild’ wetland and tip-toe along with our reedy ramble to the wobbly wet bridge.

GET CLOSER TO WILDLIFE Autumn is an exciting time for unusual bird species. Nationally important numbers of shovelers and gadwalls visit WWT London Wetland Centre over winter, and are one of the reasons why this is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.



Steve Jones


Some of our prettiest wild ducks, such as wigeons, teals and pintails, also arrive. Bitterns are present during the colder months, and you may also glimpse another shy species, the water rail. Listen for its call, which is likened to that of a squealing pig!

In recent winters, bearded tits have frequented our reedy margins. Meanwhile, water pipits can be seen feeding in the muddy margins of the grazing marsh. Now is the time to look for bitterns


FUN FOR ALL THE FAMILY Make your visit to the London Wetland Centre during October half-term (19 October to 3 November). Take part in exciting challenges to find our winter visitors, go pond dipping and build your very own leaf hero to take home! As the much-loved BBC series returns to our screens, it’s lights, camera, action at our unique Autumnwatch experience. Have a go at being a wildlife presenter on our special set and broadcast live on your own social media channel. Stuck for what to talk about? There’s so much going on around the reserve you can discover – from the changing seasons to how British wildlife copes with winter. Just think like a TV researcher, pick up your

autumn fare and a glass of sparkling wine. 12 noon-3pm. £29.50PP, £12.50PC, plus paid admission to the centre. BE RI

Magdalena Howitt

Sat 9 Nov Members’ Walk: Wet Woodland Walk Find out more about this nationally important habitat at WWT London Wetland Centre, including some of the flora and fauna that the habitat supports (fungi, long-horn beetles and woodland passerines). This is your chance to see an area of the centre not normally open to the public. The ground may be wet and uneven so please wear suitable shoes. 1pm. £2.50PP. BE Fri 15 Nov Wildlife Photography: Intermediate Skills Now you understand how your camera works and the basics of photography, it’s time to fine-tune your pictures of nature. And this is the course

cue cards, make your notes and then present your wildlife findings on camera. A trip to London Wetland Centre is the perfect way to put

you in a festive mood in the run-up to Christmas. Visit our famous Santa’s Grotto, discover wintery wildlife or find the perfect gift in our shop. For

the young and the young at heart, there’s also husky sleigh rides, face painting and elf workshops. Don’t forget to stop for a photo along the way!

‘It was “good weather for ducks” when we visited, but the sun came out and it was a brilliant experience. The site is huge and beautifully landscaped and I never imagined we’d see so many birds. Top marks for the café and shop.’

Sats and Suns 30 Nov, 1, 14 & 15 Dec Christmas Weekends Wrap up warm and take a seasonal stroll through our magical winter wonderland. From winter walks to craft workshops and traditional festive food at the Kingfisher Café, there is lots to choose from this year. Don’t forget to look out for Santa and his elf at the lodge. Tickets to see

Santa must be pre-booked online. Last admission is at 3.30pm. Sat 7 Dec Members’ Walk: Reedbed Ramblings Join our reserve warden as he takes you on a 30-minute walk into our reedbeds – normally out of bounds to visitors – to explain about their management, the wildlife that they support and Learn how to draw

10am-4pm. £40.50PP, includes materials. Price does not include admission to the centre. BE

how humans have relied on them for thousands of years. The ground may be damp and uneven so please wear suitable shoes. 1pm. £2.50PP. BE

Tues 10, Thurs 12, Tues 17, Weds 18 & Thurs 19 Dec Christmas Carvery Christmas crackers, mince pies and mistletoe. Enjoy three delicious courses and a glass of Prosecco with family and friends. 12 noon-3pm. £44PP; £19.50PC, plus paid admission to the centre. BE RI

Sun 8 Dec Drawing Workshop WWT’s founder, Sir Peter Scott, enjoyed sketching and painting the beauty of wildfowl and wetland landscapes. Today, many artists are inspired by the thriving urban wildlife habitat created at WWT London Wetland Centre. Come to our workshop and learn some basic sketching techniques – all materials will be provided.

Sun 8 Dec Birdwatching With a Warden This practical session will help you identify different birds and understand more about them. An expert warden will guide you around the wildlife reserve. The walk lasts for an hour and a half. Bring your own binoculars/telescope where possible. 9.30-11am. £10.50PP, plus admission to the centre. BE


for you! In the classroom and outside, you’ll practise a range of advanced techniques with different subject matters. 10am-4pm. £60.50PP, plus paid admission to the centre. BE

Adam Finch/WWT

Come and see Santa in his grotto






Martin Mere

L40 0TA 01704 895181 info.martinmere@wwt.org.uk WWT Martin Mere



Swan Feed Come and see the spectacle of up to 2,000 swans feed every day at 3pm at the Discovery Hide and 3.30pm in the Raines Observatory. The Discovery Hide feed includes a warden’s talk. WP Swan Experience Become a swan and travel through our swan pipe, find out your wingspan and make your own ring to wear while you explore Martin Mere. December onwards, all day. WP Guide in the Discovery Hide Come along and meet a guide in our Discovery Hide every day. They will tell you all about the swans, geese and ducks we have visiting WWT Martin Mere at this time of year. 12.30-3pm. WP

Species Spotlights Find out about our amazing wetland species in our daily schedule of spotlight talks. Why are flamingos pink? What’s the most poisonous goose in the wild? Find out this and much more! WP

Richard Taylor-Jones/WWT

See page 47 for key. Events may change – visit our website for up-to-date info


This winter, make sure you see and hear the spectacle of thousands of pink-footed geese in flight over the mere

EVENTS Sats 5, 12, 19 & 26 Oct Dawn Flights Experience the haunting sound and the thrill of an early-morning hide visit with a warden. Watch as thousands of geese awaken and take off in a honking flurry – you won’t see a better sight in nature! Your experience concludes with a delicious full English breakfast in our café. 7am. £16PP. BE Weds and Sats in Oct Late-Night Openings Witness the spectacle of tens of thousands of pink-footed geese coming in to roost at Martin Mere. Every Wed and Sat in Oct, our Discovery Hide will be open until 7pm to give you the unique opportunity of seeing up to 40,000 pink-footed geese on the reserve. 5-7pm. Free.

Autumn is an amazing time to visit Martin Mere. Leaves crunching beneath your feet, stunning sunsets across the mere and the arrival of up to 40,000 pink-footed geese make every visit special. Throughout October, you can enjoy a range of special events to celebrate the arrival of the geese from Iceland. They include Dawn Flights, where you can watch the mere awaken to the birds’ distinctive calls, and free



Late-Night Openings where you can witness thousands of geese come in to roost. From November, Martin Mere will welcome home one of nature’s most graceful species – the whooper swan. Every year, around 2,000 of these majestic birds migrate from Iceland to spend the winter with us. We have daily Swan Feeds throughout the colder months at 3pm in the Discovery Hide. Come along to get warm,


See our whoopers tuck in at a Swan Feed

see the swans tucking into their food and hear from a reserve warden, who’ll tell you

everything you need to know about this fascinating species. We also have a daily Swan Feed at the Raines Observatory at 3.30pm. Don’t overlook the smaller but equally interesting birds that also winter with us. Plenty of colourful shelducks migrate here after moulting in the Netherlands, and diving pochards fly all the way from Russia. Add to that pintails and wigeons, and the mere is a birdwatcher’s paradise!



Sam Stafford

FUN FOR ALL THE FAMILY This October half-term (19 October to 3 November), come and take part in our pumpkin hunt. See if you can find all the pumpkins hidden around our grounds, then get crafty with some pumpkin carving. You can even put yourself in the place of a migrating swan by trying our broomstick flight training. Navigate through our special obstacle course to see if you can complete the swans’ amazing migration journey from Iceland to Martin Mere. Just don’t forget to watch out for dangerous wind turbines and hungry eagles! If you’re looking for an extra-spooky adventure during your visit, be sure to take a trip on our kilometrelong canoe scare-fari! Look out for spooktacular surprises along the way.

Sat 19 Oct to Sun 3 Nov Halloween Fest This October half-term, come and take part in our pumpkin hunt, get crafty with pumpkin carving and try out our broomstick flight training. For those looking for that extra-spooky adventure, take a trip on our canoe scare-fari! All day. Price varies; see website for details.

Roger Harris

Sats 26 Oct & 23 Nov Wildlife Photography Workshop A fascinating workshop with Andy Bunting from In Focus introducing you to the finer points of wildlife photography, going beyond automatic settings to create truly spectacular images. 10am-4pm. £65PP. BE Suns 27 Oct & 24 Nov Drawing and Painting Birds Join award-winning local

Can you find all the grinning pumpkin faces hidden around the grounds this Halloween?

We’ll also be having a fancy dress competition on 31 October. We’ll be looking for the best-dressed visitor, so start planning your costume now! After Halloween, it’s time to get in the Christmas spirit. For a special festive experience

artist and illustrator Tony Disley to explore the process from drawing through to a finished painting of a bird subject. 10am-4pm. £50PP. BE Mon 4 Nov to Mon 6 Jan 2020 Lisa Hooper Wildlife Exhibition Lisa Hooper is a wildlife artist who works with a variety of print media. Come and see her work in this latest exhibition. All work is available to purchase. All day. Sat 16 to Sun 17 Nov North West Bird Watching Festival Join us for the annual North West Bird Watching Festival! We’ve got guest speakers

on December weekends, come along to one of our Sail to Santa with Elf Academy days (see listings for details). Hop on board the boat and sail across to see Santa and his elves on Santa’s Island. Once you’ve met Santa, pick up your gift and then

head to the elves’ workshop where you’ll make reindeer food to leave out for Rudolph on Christmas Eve, design a festive label to attach to a present and decorate a biscuit with colourful icing. Visit us for a magical festive experience this Christmas!

‘The number and variety of waterfowl is amazing! Watching feeding time at Swan Lake is wonderful. There are always staff on hand to help and chat, and bags of duck food on sale. The excellent café is very welcome on a chilly day. I would recommend Martin Mere to anyone, especially grandparents looking for somewhere interesting to take their special charges to run off some energy!’ Minniaslam, Liverpool Join wildlife presenter Nigel Marven at the North West Bird Watching Festival in November

including wildlife presenters Nigel Marven and Kate Bradbury, plus guided reserve walks, waterfowl-ringing demonstrations, photography workshops and much more! All day. Price varies; see website for details. Fris Nov, Dec & Jan & Feb 2020 Guided Reserve Walk Our reserve is a hive of activity in winter. For an additional activity during your visit, take part in a Guided Reserve Walk with one of our volunteers. They’ll tell you all about the

wildlife you can see as you explore our wetlands. 11am and 1.30pm. Free. Sat 30 Nov & Suns 1, 8, 15, 22 & Sats 7, 14, 21 & Mon 23 Dec Sail to Santa with Elf Academy Have an extra-magical Christmas experience this year with our Sail to Santa with Elf Academy event! Sail on a boat to visit Santa and his elves on Santa’s Island and get busy in the elves’ workshop. All day. £10PP. BE






GL2 7BT 01453 891900 Pre-book events online at wwt.org.uk/slimbridge events.slimbridge@wwt.org.uk WWT Slimbridge



See page 47 for key. Events may change – visit our website for up-to-date info

Our Bewick’s swans are the stars of the show in winter


Amphibians Come to Toad Hall and hear our expert give an insight into the world of amphibians and their habitats. If you’re brave enough, you will have the opportunity to hold some of the frogs, toads and newts. 2.15pm daily, and 12.30pm on weekends and school holidays. Lasts approximately 20 minutes. Meet in Toad Hall. Cranes Discover how Slimbridge staff are working to breed

Roger Byng

Otters Meet our friendly family of otters – Flo, Minnie and Ha Ha – and hear a talk as they tuck into a tasty fish supper. 11.30am and 3pm. Lasts approximately 20 minutes. Meet at the Otter Pool in the Back from the Brink area.

and release these birds, which have been extinct in the UK for more than 300 years, back into the wild. 2.30pm. Lasts approximately 15 minutes. Meet at the Mesolithic Hut at the Back from the Brink area.

approximately one hour. Meet on the boardwalk just outside the Toad Hall exit of the visitor centre (near mute swan interpretation panel).

Guided Walks A guided walk is a great way to learn more about the centre and its wildlife. Join one of our volunteers as they take you on a walk, and hear about the history of the centre and its wildlife. Starts 10.30am. Lasts


Tues 1 Oct, Thurs 14 Nov & Mon 16 Dec Advanced Birder Develop and refine your birding skills. Get help identifying and ageing a variety of species including waders, ducks and passerines, and learn how to use weather conditions and habitat to get more from your birding. Winter is a great time to come birding at WWT Slimbridge. Expect to see large numbers of winter ducks and geese and our Bewick’s swans. Includes a mid-session break for breakfast in the Kingfisher Kitchen. £28.50. BE RI




the Severn Estuary and a breathtaking spectacle of wild birds – from waders to ducks, geese and swans – from our new Estuary Tower Hide, just a few hundred metres from the visitor centre. Our guides in the hides will be on hand to help with bird identification and share their knowledge about this wild landscape.


And if you’re a photographer, there’s plenty of space to practise your art, with two viewing floors and an open terrace. With around 30,000 wild ducks, geese, swans and waders flying around, you’re sure to be spoiled for that perfect shot.

The tiny little stint is a longdistance migrant

James Lees/WWT

Autumn is a fantastic time to visit Slimbridge. Look out for migrant waders, including green sandpipers, dunlins and little stints. The first flocks of overwintering birds will also be arriving, including wigeons, teals and pintails, along with the first Bewick’s swans and white-fronted geese. From November, everyone can enjoy magnificent views of

Fri 18 Oct Autumn Wildlife Photography Explore your artistic side with the amazing palette

of autumn colours in the wetlands – both forest and flora. And discover the fantastic light, fungi, fruits and feathers. Explore and photograph the autumnal extravaganza in the wetlands with practical guidance and tuition from wildlife photography tutor Iain Green. Learn about your camera settings and effective composition for impactful images, plus how to capture seasonal specialities of the reserve. £63. BE RI Sat 19 Oct, Sun 17 Nov & Sat 14 Dec Birdwatch Morning Get to grips with bird identification with the help of one of our experienced reserve wardens. Join them to complete the morning visits to the bird hides to see what birds are around, and get help identifying a variety of species including waders, ducks and passerines.


Autumn is the perfect time to look out for many of the wading birds, such as ruff, greenshank and curlew sandpiper, that are in the process of making their migration journey using Slimbridge as a resting place along the way. Followed by breakfast in the Kingfisher Kitchen. £16.50. BE RI Sat 26 Oct to Sun 3 Nov October Half Term Head to the Arctic Adventure experience to meet our WWT researcher and find out what life is like for a real-life adventurer. Spot the first of the Bewick’s swans returning from their seasonal migration, and take part in the Migration Game. Children can give a birdwatching workshop a go at South Lake or venture out on a canoe safari and look out for all the autumn wildlife. WP

Mon 28 Oct Family Wildlife Photography A practical day for budding young wildlife photographers (aged 8+) and their parents to learn how to get great shots of wildlife. It is suitable for all skill levels and camera types (compact or SLR). Starting with a session looking at composition, technique, fieldcraft and equipment, you will then head outside for a practical session. £32 per adult with child. BE RI Sat 16 to Sun 17 Nov Estuary Tower Opening Weekend Celebrate the opening of our new, fully accessible Estuary Tower Hide with an official launch event with ecologist and presenter Mike Dilger. Join us for a special birdwatching morning, talks and a chance to speak to binocular and telescope specialists.

Rupert Marlow

Come inside Scott House Sir Peter Scott’s Museum, now open for daily studio, the birthplace of modern wildlife guided tours. Travel back in conservation time as you enter the 1950s home of WWT’s founder, Sir Peter Scott, preserved exactly as it was when he lived there until the late 1980s, with all his precious belongings on view. On our unique tour, you’ll find out about his amazing life, not just as the son of the Antarctic explorer Sir Robert Falcon Scott, but as a pioneering wildlife Stay the night and conservationist, an visit the observation artist, an inventor, an tower floor of Sir Olympic sportsman and Peter Scott’s home. a naval war hero. It’s a living This lovingly restored luxurious museum experience unlike apartment is decorated with any other. bespoke wallpaper created Make your visit even more from Scott’s artwork. You’ll special by staying in newly enjoy unrestricted access to renovated Bewick’s Lodge Scott’s personal observation (see page 22), on the second

tower overlooking his beloved Rushy Lake. He’d spend hours here, studying and drawing the wild birds. As you sleep in a comfy new bed, you’ll gaze up at his ceiling ‘thinking panel’ – a panel over his bed where he

placed artworks and ideas in progress. This truly unique experience is perfect for bird-lovers and Scott fans! To learn more about the museum’s historic artefacts and how to book a tour, turn to page 23.

FUN FOR ALL THE FAMILY It’s autumn, but don’t let the cold weather get you down. Now is a fantastic time to wrap up warm and get to know our ducks, geese and swans in the fresh air. And if you want to get even closer, then why not buy a bag of birdseed from the visitor centre to hand-feed our friendly nenes – the world’s rarest goose. Slimbridge will be bustling with activities throughout October half-term. Try to spot the first of our iconic Bewick’s swans returning on their seasonal migration,

explore the wetlands on a canoe safari or visit the Arctic Adventure exhibit and experience the life of an adventurer. From November, climb our new, fully accessible Estuary Tower Hide or look out from the Sloane Observation Tower at breathtaking views of the Severn Estuary. Let your little ones splash around Welly Boot Land, go wild in Riverlife outdoor play areas, venture indoors for soft play or discover our amazing amphibians at Toad Hall with daily talks.

Go wild in Welly Boot Land

Watch our otters tuck into their tasty fish supper, and set yourself the challenge of spotting all six species of flamingo in one visit. Don’t forget to look out for Slimbridge’s celebrity flamingo, Mr James, our only James’s flamingo in the pool with the Andeans.



Harley Todd






Otter Feeds Learn more about our cheeky otter family. Meet at their enclosure to see them devouring tasty treats as you hear interesting facts. 11.30am and 2.30pm. Flamingo Talks Discover more about our fabulous Chilean flamingos and hear about their solar-powered house as they enjoy their food! 11.45am and 2.45pm.


Throughout Oct Nauseating Nature Our Nauseating Nature trail returns with more foul facts and stomachturning tales about the underworld of wetlands. But will there be a sickly trick or tantalising treat waiting for you? Pick up a trail leaflet at admissions and we dare you to find out… All day, every day. Sats 5 & 19 Oct, 2 & 16 Nov, 7 & 21 Dec Guide in a Hide

NE38 8LE 0191 416 5454

info.washington@wwt.org.uk WWT Washington

wwt.org.uk/washington Have a go at making potions

FUN FOR ALL THE FAMILY There’s something intriguing about the dark side of nature – and this autumn sees the return of our pongy Nauseating Nature trail. Come and learn foul facts and stomachchurning tales about the underworld of our reserve and the wildlife that lives here. Using all of your senses, you’ll smell, touch and listen your way around our wetlands. But will you

Discover more about our diverse wild bird species with the help of our volunteer hide guide. 10am-12 noon and 2-4pm (check on arrival for details of which hide). Sats 19 Oct, 16 Nov, 21 Dec & Suns 27 Oct, 24 Nov & 22 Dec Walk With a Warden Join one of our wildlife reserve team as they lead a guided tour around the reserve, taking in the sights, sounds and

receive a trick or treat? That’s the question… What better way to discover the secrets of our wetlands than by spending the evening here? Search for bats, listen to stories by lamplight and make potions at our cabin in the woods, as our incredibly popular Nature Fright Nights return for another year of frightful fun this Halloween.

seasonal wildlife. Meet in the picture window at admissions. 11am. Suns 27 Oct, 24 Nov & 22 Dec In Focus Check out the latest in optical equipment and chat to the friendly In Focus experts. Test, select and buy state-of-the-art binoculars and telescopes under field conditions. A percentage of every sale is donated to WWT. Throughout the day in the picture window.

GET CLOSER TO WILDLIFE The warm days of summer may be a distant memory, but the stormy weather that marked the start of the season left a lasting impression, with high tides and unexpected visitors such as red-necked phalaropes and spotted redshanks alighting upon Wader Lake. As fledglings grow and begin to leave another breeding season behind, we eagerly await the return of early overwintering migrants such

as black-tailed godwits, greenshanks and both green and common sandpipers. Autumn brings with it the incredible sights and sounds of nature on the move. Wading birds including snipe and whimbrel drop in to refuel on their journeys, as passing geese soar overhead. Join our reserve wardens on guided tours to enjoy a glimpse into the mystery of migration, while soaking up the

As Christmas beckons, our education barn transforms into a festive HQ. Learn how to be Santa’s best little helper at our Elf Academy workshops, and capture the magic of the season with special crafts, songs and

Tues 29, Weds 30 & Thurs 31 Oct Nature Fright Nights See nocturnal nature at its spookiest! Enjoy bat detecting, potion making and a night-time stroll before stories and a Halloween treat. 5-7pm. £8PP (ages 4+). BE Book online at wwt.org.uk/ washington/fright-nights. Sats 7, 14 & 21 & Suns 8, 15 & 22 Dec Elf Academy Christmas is coming and,

gift-wrapping. This exciting event is a great way to enjoy feeling festive as a family.

to help spread the festive cheer, our Elf Academy is once again opening its doors to new recruits. Enrol on a special workshop and learn all you need to know to gain your Elf Diploma, including special ‘elf and safety’ guidelines, kindness, gift-wrapping and festive craft skills. Two sessions per day at 10-11.30am and 1-2.30pm. £10PC (ages 4+) and £3.50PP, including a hot drink and festive treat. BE Book online at wwt.org. uk/washington/elf-academy.

Snipe may drop by on migration

spectacularly colourful scenery of the season. Our woods are now a sheltered sanctuary for bullfinch and other woodland

birds gorging on fatballs in Hawthorn Wood, while jays hurriedly bury acorns to last them through the cold weather ahead. Bats are mating now too, as young owls disperse to find new territories. As winter creeps in, one of our biggest wild spectacles – the winter curlew roost – starts to build, peaking at dusk with flocks of more than 1,200 swooping down. A fantastic sight, not to be missed!




Ian Henderson

See page 47 for key. Events may change – visit our website for up-to-date info





PE14 9TN 01353 860711 info.welney@wwt.org.uk

WWT Welney

Top of our list of seasonal highlights are the regular visits from wild cranes. As the Fens population increases and expands across the region, we’ve been seeing more of these birds. Keep up to date with sightings on our website and plan your visit as soon as possible. Last autumn a postbreeding flock of up to 38 individuals gathered on the Ouse Washes in front of the See page 47 for key. Events may change – visit our website for up-to-date info


Swan Feed Join us for our afternoon commentated swan feeds. The sight of hundreds of swans and ducks being fed is enhanced by the flight in of more swans at dusk. Daily from Sat 19 Oct at 3.30pm. Swan Feed Join us for our commentated swan feeds at lunchtime, when you can get some of the best views of pochard in the country. Daily from Thurs 26 Dec at 12 noon. Floodlit Swan Feed Experience the swans gliding on the floodlit lagoon after dark. The commentated feed can be enjoyed by all. 6.30pm. Daily from Nov. For feed schedule, check website. Hare Walks Join us for a guided walk out on Lady Fen. Find out about the success of our wetlands and enjoy watching the hares as they get ready for spring boxing. 2-3pm Mons, Thurs and Sats, Nov to Feb. BE 62


hides. Last year they were easily viewed from our visitor centre, out on Lady Fen. Birds moving south for winter will be arriving in good numbers, with flocks of black-tailed godwits, wigeons and whooper swans building nicely. See if you can spot ringed individuals among the godwits and whoopers. Don’t forget to report any colour combinations or codes you see.


Sats 5 Oct, 2 & 23 Nov & 7 Dec Willow-weaving Workshops Join Jane Frost to learn how to create garden structures, basket forms, Christmas decorations and sculpture. 10am-4pm. £65PP. BE Contact Jane to book at workshops.frostart.co.uk or on 01353 861944. Tues 8 Oct Patagonia – A Tour to the End of the World Evening Talk A talk by Richard and Joan Munns about the landscapes and wildlife of Patagonia. All welcome. 7.30pm start. £3 (£2 Friends of Welney members). Sat 19 to Sun 27 Oct Half-Term Family Fun Pick up a backpack and Fridays 22 Nov & 6 Dec

Floodlit Swan Supper NEW this winter, enjoy a floodlit swan supper evening. Begin with a commentated swan feed, followed by a two-course meal overlooking the floodlit landscape. 7pm. £27.95. BE


the return flight We’ll be after our daily scanning the Swan Feeds, whooper swans but to get the to see if the best out of the cygnets from Bewick’s swans morning flight, 2018 have are best at dawn our Swans Awake returned. We ringed events are a must. two broods that summer, This is when the best views and have learned that of Bewick’s swans can individuals from both made be enjoyed. it as far north as Scotland. Other winter highlights As swan numbers grow, are water pipits, barn and the flight out at dawn and short-eared owls, peregrines back at dusk becomes more and marsh harriers. spectacular. You can watch

explore the reserve to watch our swans and ducks. Join a commentated swan feed to learn about them. See website for details. Suns 17 Nov & 8 Dec Swans Awake Join us before dawn to watch thousands of swans wake up from their roosting sites, then take to the skies as they fly out to feed in the fields. See website for times. £12PP, £5PC. Optional breakfast: £8.60 or £4.35. BE WP Tues 10 Dec Wicken Fen and Its Creatures Evening Talk A talk by Ranger Ajay Tegala about the wildlife and management of Wicken Fen. Hosted by the Friends of Welney. All welcome. 7.30pm start. £3 (£2 Friends of Welney members). Weds 18 Dec to Mon 6 Jan 2020 Swan Researchers Join us to witness the stunning scenery and wildlife that wetlands offer us at this time of year. Family activities will help you get an insight into the lives of our swans and ducks. See website for details.

FUN FOR ALL THE FAMILY Our commentated Swan Feeds are a great way to learn about winter wetland birds and see them close to the hide. Our knowledgeable guides will help you to tell the swans apart – mute, whooper and Bewick’s. The Swan Feeds are also a great time to see families of Experience a magical swans, as parents bring Swan Feed their cygnets closer for some grain. At weekends, our volunteer guides are on hand to identify the amazing variety of ducks and wading birds that call the reserve home at this time of year. Enjoy watching their behaviour and, from the further hides, listening to their different calls. Our Explorer backpacks are available throughout the year. Pick up yours from the gift shop to begin your wetland adventure. Binoculars and bird ID charts are great to have at hand during October half-term – the start of our swan season. After exploring, return to the main observatory to watch the Swan Feed. During the Christmas holidays, you can also take part in our Swan Researchers activity to find out if you’ve got what it takes to monitor and protect these special birds.

Steve Jones


Kim Tarsey



Steart Marshes

TA5 2PU 01278 651090 info.steart@wwt.org.uk

WWT Steart Marshes

See page 47 for key. Events may change – visit our website for up-to-date info

Spending time outdoors in nature has been proven to be good for our health and wellbeing


Tues 1 to Thurs 3, Sun 13 to Thurs 17 & Sat 26 to Thurs 31 Oct, Tues 12 to Fri 15 & Sun 24 to Fri 29 Nov, Thurs 12 to Sun 15 & Thurs 26 to Sat 28 Dec High Tide View the spectacle of the high tide at Steart, when it inundates Otterhampton and Steart Marshes around 120 times a year. These high tides can offer some of the best birdwatching opportunities, as feeding birds are pushed further into the reserve towards the Mendip and Polden hides, with tides over six metres filling the lagoons. Please look at the tide tables on our website for the best times to visit (highest tides are highlighted in yellow). Wildlife Rubbings Trail Bring a pencil and paper to try our new rubbings trail. Willow Sculpture Trail Discover some of the wildlife that visits the reserve on our willow sculpture trail. The sculptures are all made by local artists. Geocache Trail Get the app on your phone and follow the directions to find treasures hidden around the reserve.


Tues 1 Oct High Tide Birdwatching Walk Enjoy the spectacle of the high tide as it fills the largest area of the reserve, and watch hundreds of birds feeding from key viewpoints. 8.30-10.30am. Suggested donation: £5PP. BE

Sam Stafford/WWT


GET CLOSER TO WILDLIFE At Steart, the changing seasons are marked with a change of colour. Just as the leaves of the trees turn to warmer autumn hues, so do the plants of the saltmarsh, with the huge expanse of intertidal habitat switching from bright green to red, then purple and finally brown. Whether it’s a family stroll, a leisurely ramble or a long hike you’re after, walking on the reserve is particularly rewarding at this time of year, with crisp air, and huge skies offering fabulous views along our tranquil walking routes. Being outside and enjoying Thurs 31 Oct Night Walk Did you know that waders feed at night? Join us for a walk through the reserve after dark to hear the sounds of the saltmarsh at high tide. Hot drinks provided! Please wear warm clothing. 7-9pm. Suggested donation: £5PP. BE RI

nature has been associated with positive health and wellbeing – another example of how wetlands benefit people and wildlife. As we say goodbye to the swallows, gathering here before making their long migration south to Africa, we say hello to newly arrived winter migrants, such as wigeon, and fieldfares making the most of the bounty of berries in the hedgerows. It’s an exciting time as bird populations gradually start to build, with fantastic numbers of avocets, golden plovers, lapwings and knot being

Thurs 7 Nov 4x4 Tour Take a trip along the River Parrett banks to the breach. Explore off-limits areas of the saltmarsh. Please book early as places are limited. 10am-12 noon and 1-3pm tours. Suggested donation: £10PP (£80 to book the whole vehicle and guide). BE

among the favourites. These spectacularly large flocks are best enjoyed from the Quantock Hides and the banks of the River Parrett during high tides, when birds are displaced from the mudflats and come onto the reserve to feed. As raptors start to disperse to their wintering grounds, eagle-eyed visitors can enjoy sightings of marsh harriers, merlins and short-eared owls. Last year, a female hen harrier stayed here over winter. Over the past few years, some surprising rare birds such as grey phalaropes have been blown off-course from the Atlantic and over to Steart by winter winds.

Sun 24 Nov Freshwater Birdwatching Walk Discover our freshwater marsh, which is transformed from grazing fields to lake at this time of year. It’s a great area for watching waterfowl. 10am-12 noon. Suggested donation: £5PP. BE

By arrangement 1:1 or Group Birdwatching Walks Learn about the wintering birds at Steart with your own local guide. Contact the office to arrange a bespoke tour. Why not book one as a Christmas gift? Suggested donation: £20 (1:1) or £5PP (groups of five or more). BE





WWT’s Severn Curlew Project Officer Mike Smart shares his memories of Scott and Slimbridge with Waterlife

When I was a boy growing up

in Gloucester, Slimbridge was the best place to watch birds, especially waterbirds, in the area. Today, this is still true, largely because of WWT’s imaginative management of the reserve and ability to adapt to changing circumstances (the land used to be managed mainly for swans and geese, but now it’s also managed for waders).

As a 14-year-old, I joined the

all the way from Cheltenham to Slimbridge. I never saw the little egret. But in the past 20 years, this Mediterranean species has spread all over the UK and is now seen regularly at WWT centres.

Mike Smart Severn Curlew Project Officer, WWT Slimbridge

Severn Wildfowl Trust, as WWT was known back then. In the old days, you could join as an associate member for 10 and sixpence. And for that, you could come down to Slimbridge on a Sunday and ‘the warden’ (a terrifically impressive figure with a tweed jacket and a great big pair of ex-naval binoculars) would take you down the Dumbles to see the geese – a privilege granted only to members.

I remember listening to Peter

Scott on the BBC Home Service on steam wireless. On a Children’s Hour programme in April 1955, Scott said he’d just come from Slimbridge, where a very rare little egret had been seen, the first-ever record for Gloucestershire. The next morning I jumped on my bike and pedalled




From 1974 to 1990, I worked at the headquarters of the International Waterfowl & Wetlands Research Bureau (IWRB, now Wetlands International) at Slimbridge. I often consulted Scott on international issues. I remember that he helped us to write a letter to the Yugoslav authorities expressing concern about a wetland that was under threat from a dam being built upstream. I heard recently that, though it is smaller these days, the wetland still has breeding spoonbills. What I remember most about Scott is his voice: soft and mellifluous, yet authoritative. Scott always talked about the ‘four pillars of conservation’ – research, education, recreation and conservation. I think that this ruling concept is one of his greatest legacies. Slimbridge was the world-leader

in research on waterbirds during the 1960s and 1970s, not least because

Mike looks for curlews on their breeding grounds

theories and discoveries could be tested here thanks to the living collection of birds. During my travels with IWRB and Ramsar, I met many people who had visited Slimbridge as young aspiring scientists. In the 1980s, the centre’s education facilities were the envy of everyone I knew. WWT is brilliant at enabling people to see and enjoy birds without disturbing them. Today, I help monitor wild birds.

I love being out in the field, circled by curlews, and watching what they’re doing through a telescope.

The most fascinating time is early in the season, when the curlews return to Gloucestershire and you can see breeding pairs claiming a territory, chasing each other and interacting with other pairs. I want to help protect the curlew’s wild habitat, and the other flora and fauna that lives in Gloucestershire, because it’s part of the region’s natural heritage. I hope people will be able to enjoy seeing these amazing birds, hearing their iconic calls and observing their fascinating behaviour for many years to come.

Samuel Walker/WWT