I want to introduce you to some of the wetland open spaces there are around London. We will start in Harrow at Stanmore Little Common adjoining Wood Lane in northern Stanmore. This small green space contains two ponds, the Upper and Lower Spring Ponds, most likely man-made and believed to date back to Roman times, hence the upper pond also being known as Caesar's Pond. They were the original water supply for Stanmore, whose name means stony ponds. The remains of the 19th-century water pump still stands by the road. In Warren Lane there are some smaller ponds; those to the south are permanent but those to the north are temporary, forming in spring and making it a good area for frogs. These ponds are fairly natural and probably fill old gravel diggings. A more managed pond, marked on maps as Fish Pond, lies between the Rugby Club and the Cricket Club. There is a defined path around it and it was used for pond dipping when I learnt biology at school. The separate pond to the north used to be full of Water Soldier, probably a garden escapee.
An early development of a wetlands site is Hollow Pond, opposite Whipps Cross University Hospital, Waltham Forest. The ponds were originally formed from gravel extraction, which ended in 1878. At the turn of the twentieth century, in 1905, Leyton District Council and Epping Forest Committee recruited a large number of unemployed labourers to extend the various water-filled holes into a lake fed by natural springs. The lake has several well-wooded islands and is surrounded by a mix of trees and shrubs with some dense clumps of gorse and bramble. A shallow pond at the north is a reed bed. On the east side is Leyton Flats, a popular grassy area. Boats can be hired and fishing is permitted and the area is home to a wide range of waterfowl and songbirds.
Beam Parklands, which forms part of Dagenham Green Corridor, opened in 2011 and covers 53 hectares. There had been an open space between the Wantz stream and the River Beam for some time but recently it has been developed as a flood detention scheme. The park, managed by The Land Trust, holds a Green Flag award and was awarded 2011 CIWEM Living Wetlands Award and the Brownfield Award for `Best Use of Land in Dagenham'. There are outdoor classrooms as well as history and sculpture trails, and the park provides a wealth of diverse habitats — look out for Grey Heron and Little Egret — and a short stretch of the lost Romford Canal can also be found. A small mound is all that is left of a smallpox isolation hospital once located at the centre of the site — the original boundary trees of the hospital remain.
Crane Park is on a river walk from Harrow to the Thames at Isleworth. The park is the site of the Hounslow Gunpowder Mills, operating from the 18th century until 1926. In 1935 it was made into a public park and the reservoir for the mills became a boating pond. However, it became derelict and in 1981 the pond was drained to create Crane Park Island, a nature reserve managed by the London Wildlife Trust. The site includes a variety of habitats, including reed beds, willow carr woodland and meadow. It supports a wide range of species including the water vole, which is rare in London. Some relics of the gunpowder factory remain; these include many mounds of earth, originally part of the explosion protection, they now provide a woodland habitat that is outside the nature reserve. The shot tower was restored in 2004 and is open as a visitor centre on Sundays.
Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park, opened in 2002, is one and a half hectares of freshwater habitat consisting of two ponds and marshland providing an extensive range of habitats. The park is in two sections: the outer lake area, with open access at all times, has a walkway through woodlands and leads to a meadow with some play equipment. The inner part has controlled access, being open to the public Wednesday to Sunday during the day from 10am until 5pm (Monday and Tuesday are reserved for schools). In a relatively small area there is an extensive range of habitat for birds and insects as well as a bat tower. There are two bird hides providing an opportunity to see the many bird species that visit the site. Plant life is also celebrated and meadow areas are rich in wildflowers.
A very recent (autumn 2017) addition to publicly accessible wetlands is the opening up of the Walthamstow Reservoirs. The ten reservoirs, constructed between 1863 and 1904, remain a vital part of the water supply to London, but the public now have access to the various paths and roads on the site. The Engine House of 1894 has been made into a visitor centre. It is a short walk from the southern end of the site to Walthamstow Marshes, an area of wetland that lies to the east of the River Lea.
We will end with the London Wetland Centre in Barnes, which opened to the public in 2000 and became a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 2002. There is an entrance fee. The reserve was formerly the site of several small reservoirs made obsolete by the ring main. When the reservoirs were broken up, all the spoil had to remain on site and was used to build walls and underwater reefs. Much of the 40-hectare site is water and is used by overwintering birds, including teal, wigeon, gadwall and shovelers; hides are provided for observation. There are two main paths around the site: the West Route looks at wetlands of the world and is educational; the South Route has a more naturalistic landscape. With areas of woodland, reed beds and grazing meadow, the reserve provides a superb habitat for wildlife in all seasons, and many of the birds that inhabit the site are not found anywhere else in London. There is a bat house that is both sculptural and functional. Displays provide an introduction to wetlands and water management and there is a small museum of traditional water industry artefacts. The Centre has an on-going educational programme and daily 'Spotlight' short talks explore the history of the site and some of the wildlife that lives there. In 2010, the Centre opened an innovative rain garden designed by Dr Nigel Dunnett. Water collected on the green roof of a pavilion, one of the central attractions of the garden, is gently run through a series of 'rain gardens' into a lushly planted stream.
It is noticeable that many of these wetlands have been constructed from areas previously used by industry, the purpose-built ecology park at Greenwich being an exception. Most of the sites introduced here have to be intensively managed to maintain habitats and to manage public access. There is probably as much horticulture on these sites as there is in conventional parks and gardens, the difference is that you get to see animal and plant species that do not occur in typical parks. And, just enjoying the experience of being in a different environment is great.