I’ve been a member of WWT – that’s the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust for those in the know – for a good 5 years but, as Northern Ireland only has one WWT Centre I’ve not explored as much as I’d like.
If you’re in the car the Centre is easy to find and parking is free. You’re given a token at reception when you come in, so for goodness’ sake don’t lose it! Otherwise the Centre is easily accessible on foot or by bus from Barnes Railway Station.
If you’re a WWT member entrance to this and all 10 WWT centres is free. If you’d prefer to test the waters first rather than committing to a membership it’s worth buying your ticket online – you’ll save 10% on the admission charge.
The skies were fairly overcast during my visit but it didn’t put a dampener on the day. On the contrary I quite enjoyed the peace of sitting in the hide and looking out onto the vast wetland with tower block flats on the horizon and jumbo jets flying to Heathrow overhead.
You don’t need any fancy gear to appreciate the wildlife on display. There are binoculars in the hides to stretch your eyesight that wee bit further as well as birding books to help you give a name to the various species you come across. If you’re into birding you’ll find cranes, ducks and geese in abundance but the Centre is also home to a little family of otters. If you time it right you can see them feeding twice a day. Sadly I missed the official feeding time but the lovely lady on reception told me they get a small snack at 4pm and sure enough as soon as my feet hit the decking they popped up looking for some grub!
Despite the cloudy skies there were quite a few young families visiting while I was there. The centre’s layout is good with smaller ponds near the entrance that are well enclosed and make it easy for little ones to see wildlife up close. If you fancy more of a solitary experience the hides further out lend themselves well to this and you can sit back and wait for something to wander into your eye-line. Quite a few of the families had prams and pathways tend to be rather wide and flat. I’d say the site seems fairly wheelchair friendly although it may be a little tricky to open and close gates without some assistance. If in doubt be sure to call ahead.
As usual I brought my camera with me and found it a useful opportunity to practise my wildlife photography. I still struggle to capture animals when they move – a pair of preening birds quickly turned into out of focus fluff balls and anything in flight you can forget about (for now, anyway!)
I missed the boat at the coffee shop when I headed back to the main building so if you’re after refreshments make sure you get to the cafe a good 30 – 40 minutes before closing time. Otherwise, you can always pop into Barnes for a cuppa on your way home.
Until next time,