WWT’s nine wetland centres across the UK are seeing bumper visitor numbers this week, but not just the human kind! The freezing conditions have prompted thousands more ducks, geese and swans than usual to enjoy the hospitality of WWT reserves during the day, as the country remains in the grip of the cold snap.
The extreme weather makes it difficult for birds to find food, prompting a scheme under Section 2 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to kick in to minimise unnecessary disturbance to their feeding and roosting patterns. Today the Scottish government has suspended the shooting of wildfowl in Scotland for the first time in 13 years after a seven day period of ‘voluntary restraint’ on their activities. Birdwatchers, dog walkers, horse-riders – in fact all those who use the countryside – in Scotland have also been urged to avoid unnecessary disturbance to wild birds.
Weather forecasts suggest that later this week, England, Wales and Northern Ireland will also enter the period of ‘voluntary restraint’. With their networks of paths and well place bird hides, WWT centres provide an ideal opportunity for walkers and birdwatchers to enjoy the countryside whilst minimizing disturbance to wild birds. Wintering wildfowl traditionally fly onto WWT reserves for the morning and afternoon feeds with many moving around nearby fields foraging for food in between. But with persistent ice and snow on the ground, food is scarce and in order to conserve their vital energy reserves the birds are remaining on the reserves, offering unrivalled birdwatching opportunities for visitors to WWT centres.
Andy Wooldridge, Centre Manager at WWT Martin Mere in Lancashire, said: “We’ve had quite a bit of snow here so many more birds are staying on the reserve all day as they can’t afford to use up energy to search for food elsewhere. We’ve double the numbers of whooper swans than usual at the moment, plus an extra 1500 wigeon all looking for food, so we’ve actually started feeding the birds three times a day now instead of twice.”
An extra feed has also been put in place at WWT Slimbridge this week. James Lees, Reserve Warden here, said “The fields around here are frozen solid so more of our winter visitors are staying on the Rushy Pen all day to take advantage of the guaranteed food we provide. Today we’ve got 270 Bewick’s on the reserve – more than we’ve had here at one time for around five years, so it’s a real treat for visitors to see so many of them up close from the observatory.”
At WWT London Wetland Centre a record number of seven bitterns have been seen at the centre in the last few days. Adam Salmon, Reserve Manager, said: “The freezing conditions are almost certainly responsible, but we’re not sure if the bitterns are taking refuge here from the continent or the surrounding countryside as the capital is just a few degrees warmer than the rest of the UK at the moment!”
WWT centres are open all year round (except Christmas Day), for membership, admission prices and times, visit www.wwt.org.uk.