Where to go in Britain to view wetlands birds

Where to go in Britain to view wetlands birds

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We may still be in the depths of winter here in Britain, but that needn't stop you getting out into the great outdoors and indulging your family's passion for wildlife.

One of the best places to visit at this time of year is a wetlands habitat, which will be heaving with winter visitors from foreign shores as well as our native birds, meaning there'll be plenty of opportunities for you to admire a plethora of species.

There are lots of these habitats across the country, so we'll provide a few examples that could serve as your next day out - particularly with February half-term approaching.

What are wetlands - and which birds might be there?

Wetlands are locations where water either covers the soil or is present at or near the surface for at least part of the year. They can be found on every continent except Antarctica and can be coastal or inland. They therefore include marshes, lakes, coastal zones, peatlands and estuaries.

Unfortunately, many of our wetlands are vulnerable to habitat destruction because people don't recognise their importance. Indeed, England alone has lost 90 per cent of its wetlands in the past 400 years and 57 per cent of the species that rely on them are in decline.

You can do your bit to support them, though, by visiting Britain's wetlands that are closest to you - many of which are managed by the RSPB or Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust - and backing their conservation efforts.

Inland wetlands will be packed with wildfowl at present and estuaries should be playing host to large numbers of waders, so this is the ideal time to head out. Such large groupings of birds often attract birds of prey such as Peregrines, Hen Harriers or Short-eared Owls, so look out for these if lots of birds suddenly take to the skies.

Among the 60 species of waterbird you might spot that overwinter in the UK are:

•    Wigeon
•    Bewick's Swan
•    Dunlin
•    Ringed Plover
•    Black-tailed Godwit

Meanwhile, our 39 species of native wetlands birds include:

•    Little Grebe
•    Curlew
•    Mute Swan
•    Great Crested Grebe

Wetlands to visit in Britain

In no particular order, here is just a short list of some of our favourite wetlands and their highlights across the country.

1.    The Somerset Levels

This is one of the lowest and flattest places in the country and is among the most important wetlands in the world. You can see birds like Curlews and Bearded Tits and, if you're very lucky, a Bittern. Look out for other wildlife too, including otters and some of the most impressive Starling murmurations in the country.

2.    The Ouse Washes (Welney, near Wisbech)

Situated in Norfolk, the washes are a great place for winter walking and hold the UK's largest roost of Whooper and Bewick's Swans.

3.    London Wetland Centre

Just ten minutes' drive from Hammersmith, this is an oasis in an urban environment and offers beautiful lakes, ponds and gardens for the family to stroll around, as well as the chance of seeing some great wetland birds.

4.    Martin Mere Wetland Centre (Burscough, Lancashire)

Ideal for anyone in the north of England, this has something to offer visitors in every season, with birds including various species of duck and migrating swans.

5.    Llanelli Wetland Centre (Carmarthenshire, Wales)

Here you can hand-feed geese, marvel at colourful flamingos, go pond-dipping and much more, making it perfect for those with primary school-aged children.

6.    Caerlaverock Wetland Centre (Dumfriesshire, Scotland)

The ultimate wilderness for a day of tranquility, this location provides winter migration spectacles and beautiful wildflower meadows in summer, which play host to orchids, butterflies and dragonflies.

There should be something here to suit you, no matter where you are and what you like to see, so why not check one of them out the next time you're looking for something to do? Many of the wetlands offer friendly visitor centres and a busy timetable of monthly events too, so all the family will be catered for.