Barnes Wetland Centre, London

Barnes Wetland Centre, London
I was meeting a classmate after about six to eight years. We had done our Masters in Europe on a scholarship called the Erasmus Mundus, together and had met up just once after that in Bangalore. Now I was meeting her in London, married and living there since we had done the course. Something I would have loved to do, but family responsibility took me home.

“ Take a train to Clapham Junction and I will meet you there and we can go on to Barnes Bridge,” she said. “ It’s an urban oasis for wildlife and people, just 10 minutes from Hammersmith. We can stroll among the lakes, ponds and gardens, something you would love and then we can have lunch in the Kingfisher café. It’s off the beaten path and you are no tourist,” she said.

We walked into the lovely reception area and chatted with the receptionist who assured us that it was all for free. Nothing in London is for free, least of all such a great place, but it was.

With wildlife in the spotlight both children and adults learn so much about the animals that live in the conversation centre. Check out the board in the reception for all the free talks about various birds and animals -- the rarest geese, swans and what we listened to was all about the endangered demoiselle cranes.

The little islands around had exotic swans, ducks and geese, including American wood ducks, elegant smews, and noisy white-faced whistling ducks. Then we walked into the reserve for lakes, pools and scrapes – which is home to colourful garden birds, pretty wading birds, as well as frogs and newts.Cheeky otters and delightful ducks

The Otter area was wonderland with the otters playing, snoozing in their specially-designed ‘holt’ and we watched them during feeding time – it’s a real splash! Then the wardens in Duck Tales took over and they fed their domestic ducks with their own special grain.

It was such a wonder walking through the thick grassy banks, where Dragonflies, frogs, bats and butterflies lived comfortably, with plenty of fresh food. What’s amazing is there are 300,000 plants and 27,000 trees in the Wetland which makes it a wildlife oasis in central London.

Crowds of school children accompanied by teachers, were introduced to the screeching croak of marsh frogs and the zip of dragonfly wings through the reeds, by volunteers. Overhead we marveled at the aerial acrobatics of hundreds of swifts and sand martins and as dusk falls watch for bats swooping across the skies.

What amazed me were the six hides, perfect for wildlife watching and their two-storey Observatory for a panoramic view of the reserve. The wetlands are accessible to everyone for free, which is why the three-storey Peacock Tower and the Observatory have lift access to the upper floors and the Headley Discovery hide has fixed floor to ceiling windows. We saw Japanese bird photographers ‘shooting’ with massive lenses and we are told -- birds have ears so to be very quiet.

My classmate comes every single week to spend time in their flower meadows and gardens. “You can’t beat the sweet-scented peace of the beautiful gardens – The RBC Rain Garden and The Slate Garden,” she said. “ I love to stroll amongst them enjoying their beautiful wildflowers, reeds and grasses, and bug hotels.It’s obvious, lizards, bees, dragonflies and butterflies love it there as much as I do!”

As we walked out to the Barnes Bridge railway station for me to wend my way home after a very filling meal at the Kingfisher of a hearty soup with a side of cheesy chips, we waved goodbye to a family of Canadian geese with three downy goslings, all waddling along, which is so evocative of the Barnes Wetland.

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