top of page
  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Urban Birding: Walthamstow Wetlands. Cormorants, Kingfishers, Tufted Ducks & Golden Eyes. 05.03.21

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

Conservation, auto-rewilding and development

Walthamstow Wetlands consists of a group of reservoirs in Walthamstow/South Tottenham, owned and managed for drinking water by Thames Water, and the landscape around them, managed for wildlife by the London Wildlife Trust and the London Borough of Walthamstow. Walthamstow Wetlands opened to the public in October 2017; although the reservoirs have been there since the nineteenth century. It is a good example of a wildlife organisation and a local authority (London Borough of Walthamstow) working with a business to promote free and accessible access to urban nature. It is a fascinating site, ecologically, and in terms of water technology and industrial archaeology. And it is a very important site for London's overwintering wildfowl, especial Tufted Ducks, and a location for some now rare wintering birds, such as the Goldeneye Ducks; and the brooks running through the fisheries provide tasty food for Kingfishers.

I reached the site by public transport (Brighton to London Victoria by Southern Rail, then tube from Victoria to Tottenham Hale, TfL Victoria Line). It is a ten minute walk from Tottenham Hale tube station to the entrance, walking down Ferry Lane (which becomes Forest Road) toward Walthamstow. There are two entrances on Ferry Lane/Forest Road. Walking from Tottenham Hale, toward Walthamstow, the first entrance is to the right (south), which gives access the visitors centre (the Engine House) and the southern Walthamstow reservoirs; and a few meters further down, where Ferry Lane becomes Forest Road, there is an entrance on the left (north) to the Maynard and Lockwood Reservoirs. Not all of the reservoirs and surround landscape are open all the year; some reservoirs, and their surrounding land, are closed in winter, so as not to disturb winter migrants roosting and foraging; and some reservoirs, and their surround land, are closed in spring ,so as not to disturb migrants nesting birds

In the Lee Valley a cluster of reservoirs have been transformed into Europe’s largest urban wetland reserve. Walthamstow Wetlands is a 211-hectare site comprising ten reservoirs that provide drinking water for London and which are internationally recognised for their importance for migrating birds – particularly overwintering wildfowl. .... It remains the largest fishery in London. It is part of the Walthamstow Reservoirs Site of Special Scientific Interest, and the Lee Valley Special Protection Area, Ramsar site of international importance, and Lee Valley Walthamstow Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation. Walthamstow Wetlands | London Wildlife

The reservoirs are London's largest fisheries; and people can pay to fish in the reservoirs. Walthamstow Fishery | Days out | Thames Water and Angling at Walthamstow Wetlands | London Wildlife Trust ( There were many fishers on special platforms on the reservoirs. The use of the reservoirs by fishers and wildlife raises questions:

Britain’s largest inland colony [of Cormorants] currently reside at Walthamstow Wetlands, a nature reserve and functional reservoir system in northeast London, recently branded ‘Europe’s largest urban wetland’. Here, great cormorants are embroiled in contested ideas of nature. Celebrated by conservationists for their resilience and adaptability, yet hounded by anglers for launching ecological chaos on rivers and reservoirs and disrupting the balance that is imagined for urban recreational spaces. Auto-rewilding in Post-industrial Cities Author(s): Cara Clancy and Kim Ward Source: Conservation & Society , 2020, Vol. 18, No. 2 (2020), pp. 126-136 Published by: Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment and Wolters Kluwer India Pvt. Ltd. Auto-rewilding in Post-industrial Cities (

Although it must be remembered, that fishing was traditionally a source of food for those on low incomes, as well as a (blood) sport

The walking routes through the Walthamstow Wetlands give very good views of the surrounding areas of Haringey and Walthamstow; and what was clear was how many new housing developments were being built (few with truly affordable housing). The Walthamstow Wetlands and its surroundings highlight the difficulties in cities, in neo-liberal capitalism, of meeting the needs of people and nature.

Birds seen: Canada Geese, Greylag Geese, Egyptian Geese, Cormorants, Shelducks, Tufted Ducks, Goldeneye Ducks, Gadwall, Wigeon, Mallards, Black Headed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Great Black-Backed Gulls, Moorhens, Coots, Carrion Crows, Magpies, Mute Swans, a Kingfisher, Grey Herons, Great-Crested Grebes, Little Grebes, Robins, Long-Tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Pied Wagtails

Photo of map inside the visitors centre

Tottenham Hale station

Ferry Lane (come out of the station and turn left. and then turn left at the first road (Ferry Lane)

The River Lee Locks at Ferry Lane (cross the River Lee on Ferry Lane, don't turn right or left along the Lea)

The entrance into the south (Walthamstow Reservoirs) part of the site

The Engine House (visitors centre). With café (lovely, but expensive; bring your own packed lunch and eat it at the outdoor eating area, as I did, if you are on a low income), shop, viewing gallery (worth going upstairs to see out across the wetlands form the upper floor) and exhibition space. Entrance free.

There are lots of history and remnants from the area’s industrial past. The first historical building you’ll see is the Engine House. It was built in 1894 during the set up of the reservoirs and was known as the Ferry Lane Pumping Station. This impressive Victorian industrial building is built, like many Victorian industrial buildings, in a simple but striking Italianate style. Walthamstow Walk: An Ancient House And A Sinking Cemetery - Living London History

The chimney is, in fact, a replacement, and is built with swift bricks to encourage swift nesting

Swift bricks

Inside the viewing gallery (upstairs, with wheelchair lift); with old mill wincing machinery.

In this space there was the exhibition Spring Awakening: a Celebration of the Wildflowers of Walthamstow Wetlands by Artist and Printmaker Anna Alcock - 2 March to 28 April , see: Exhibition: Spring Awakening by Artist and Printmaker Anna Alcock | London Wildlife Trust (

Views from the viewing gallery (mid afternoon, in the brief period where the sky clouded up and there was some rain)

Views toward Stamford Hill

The island in Reservoir One, from the Herron Path

Canada Geese and Tufted Ducks; the ten reservoirs offer a haven for overwintering wildfowl, such as pochard and gadwall, and are regionally important for breeding birds such as grey heron, tufted duck and little egret. Wildlife at Walthamstow Wetlands | London Wildlife Trust ( The reservoirs hold nationally important numbers of Tufted Ducks in the early autumn — during July to early September their numbers will peak at about 2000! Walthamstow Wetlands | London Bird Club Wiki | Fandom

East Warwick Reservoir

Cormorants and Gulls on the island in East Warwick reservoir; with Harringay in the background

There is a large number of Cormorants in the Walthamstow Wetlands. An example of aut rewilding

The case of great cormorants at Walthamstow Reservoirs serves as a reminder that some species can respond to human pressures in unpredictable ways. Their inland migration and subsequent life-making practices at an urban industrial reservoir could never have been predicted by conservationists. Auto-rewilding is a legitimate form of rewilding that needs to be better integrated into the discourse and scientific studies on rewilding. Von Essen and Allen (2016) bring this point to light in their examination of cases of animals that have rewilded themselves – ‘inasmuch as they colonise the wrong areas at the wrong times’ (2016: 89) – and found that rewilders often have double standards, where the animals that are intentionally rewilded have more legitimacy and protection (e.g. freedom from culling regimes) than animals that rewild themselves into landscapes. As a result: ‘a lack of planned human intentionality can deprive a species of the right to exist in an area even if the animals established themselves autonomously at a site. At the same time, meticulously planned rewilding schemes where species are paternalistically placed and maintained at another location, attain more legitimacy with what appears to be less of the sovereignty and wildness sounded in its rhetoric (Swales 2014).’ (von Essen and Allen 2016: 89). In other words, rewilders often seek a particular (human imposed) version of wildness – ‘wild but not too wild’ – and this undermines their claims about rewilding as an open, flexible and future-oriented approach to environmental management (Lorimer et al. 2015). The implications of having auto-rewilded species in cities needs to go beyond the (often negative) sense of invasion and damage. There is a need to locate a more nuanced understanding of rewilding, one that speaks to the complex challenges brought by an increasingly human dominated world and to species that operate on their own terms (Whitehouse 2015). In this paper, we have utilised and expanded the term auto-rewilding and offered an empirical example of it in an urban context. We have also demonstrated that the autonomous activities of cormorants – nonhuman occupation and self-relocation – at Walthamstow are intimately entangled with human histories and activities. While it is important to acknowledge the ongoing unequal power dynamics that affect species on the move, the case study highlights that nonhumans are not just passive actors in the creation of novel ecosystems. More research is needed to better understand instances of auto-rewilding and not just from a single-species perspective. There are now emerging efforts to reconceptualise species that have rewilded themselves (see Wallach et al. 2019). While inland cormorants may be a celebration of nonhuman agency in cities, it is important to be attuned to all more-than-humans within weedy landscapes. The great cormorants at Walthamstow are an example of auto-rewilding insofar as they have both moved away from, and oddly into, the conditions created by human activity – from declining fish stocks at sea to amply supplied inland fishing waters. Their story highlights ‘the paradoxical relationship between entanglement and autonomy’ (DeSilvey and Bartolini 2018: 6) insofar as they demonstrate how nonhumans can work both with and against the grain of an increasingly human-dominated world, both exploiting and suffering under the conditions they find themselves in. Auto-rewilding in Post-industrial Cities Author(s): Cara Clancy and Kim Ward Source: Conservation & Society , 2020, Vol. 18, No. 2 (2020), pp. 126-136 Published by: Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment and Wolters Kluwer India Pvt. Ltd.

A fox trotting along the thin footpath between Reservoir 1 and Reservoirs 2/3

Tufted Duck in Reservoir 3

Walthamstow Wetlands is a prime spot for moulting tufted duck, for example; over two thousand of them choose the reservoirs as a haven during this vulnerable time of the year [December]. I always loved the way that tufted ducks dive with a wake of bubbles, and bob back up to the surface like corks. Bugwoman on Location – Walthamstow Wetlands | Bug Woman – Adventures in London (

Grey Heron, watched by a Greylag Geese, landing on Reservoir 4, near an overflow pipe from Reservoir 5.

A Gadwall

A Wigeon

The island in Reservoir 2

Great Crested Grebes, pair bonding, Reservoir 1

Grey Herons in a heronry on the island

Loads of Tufted Ducks - everywhere (here on reservoir 1)

Reservoir 2; looking toward the new housing development on Ferry Lane.

Robin on the railings of the outdoor seating areaof the Engine House (Visitors Centre) Café

A Shelduck dabbling in Reservoir 2

A Black-Headed Gull on a sluice valve, East Warwick Reservoir.

The Kingfisher again - same place (Coppermill Brook) - with another fish

Canada Geese (on the bank of East Warwick Reservoir, opposite Coppermill)

And he caught another fish, and flew to a pile of timber to eat it (about 2m from where he caught the fish, in the Coppermill Brook). It's a big one!


Gadwall, East Warwick Reservoir

Little Grebe, East Warwick Reservoir

The northern reservoirs (Low and High Maynard Reservoirs and the Lockwood Reservoir)

After walking round the southern part of the Wetlands, I walked across the pedestrian cross on Ferry Lane, and entered the northern area of Reservoirs (Maynard and Lockwood reservoirs) at the beginning of Forest Road (continuation of Ferry Lane)

Egyptian Geese, on the grass between the Low Maynard Reservoir and the Lockwood Reservoir

Nearby there were some Greylag Geese

Egyptian Geese, next to the crane for lifting drums from a secure enclosure (possible containing chemicals for water treatment): Once the water has been treated, the last thing we do is add a very small amount (less than one milligram per litre) of chlorine to it. This kills any remaining organisms or bacteria and keeps the water safe, right up until it reaches your tap. The water treatment process | Education | Thames Water. In the background, the flats of Waterside Way, N17

From the walkway around the Lockwood Reservoir - about 10 meters higher than Low Maynard Reservoir - various areas of London could be seen

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (Strafford, E15) and the Orbit (Tower): Orbit was designed by Turner-Prize winning artist Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond of Arup Group ArcelorMittal Orbit - Wikipedia

Canary Wharf (Isle of Dogs)

The walkway from which these photos were taken (but looking toward Tottenham)

New housing on the far side of the High Maynard Reservoir, on the east side of Dagenham Brook

The weir that separates the high and low Maynard Reservoirs

A pair of Mallards on the weir that separates the high and low Maynard Reservoirs

Gadwall, near the Mallards

Spurs' new "Tottenham Hotspur Stadium" (2019) replacing the old White Hart Lane ground, designed by the Populous architecture practice, led by Christopher Lee

Great Crested Grebe on Lockwood Reservoir

Canada Geese, flying across High Maynard Reservoir, in front of warehouses on Dagenham Brook, Vanguard Way, Walthamstow, London, N17

Egyptian Geese by the low Maynard Reservoir, fluffed up in the wind

Looking over to the new development on Forest Road/Blackhorse Road (Walthamstow)

Greylag Geese in front of the steps that go up from the Low Maynard Reservoir to the higher Lockwood Reservoir

A pair of Mute Swans, in the Rover Lea

Back in the southern side; (south of Ferry Lane); the Walthamstow Reservoirs and West Warwick Reservoir

The pair of Great Crested Grebes seen earlier having a snooze (Reservoir 1)

The island in Reservoir 2

Black Headed Gulls in front of the island in Reservoir 2

Reservoir 4; Blackhorse Road behind


A watermill was in existence here by the 14th century, when it ground corn. Gunpowder was made during the 17th century and the vicinity was at the time known as Powdermill Marsh. Thereafter, the mill successively produced paper, leather (presumably grinding bark here to yield tannin) and linseed oil.

The mill was rebuilt c.1806 in London stock brick with Portland stone dressings. As is obvious from the photograph above,* the original roof has since been replaced. New owners the British Copper Company smelted ore at its works near Swansea and brought copper ingots here in barges – by sea, and then via the Thames and the Lee Navigation. The ingots were rolled into sheets that were used for various purposes, including stamping halfpenny and penny Conder tokens. Copper rolling and stamping continued here until 1857.

The mill was acquired by the East London Waterworks Company in 1859 and the Italianate tower was added in 1864 to accommodate a Cornish Bull engine. This and the mill’s waterwheels helped drain the surrounding marshes during the construction of the Walthamstow reservoirs.

The first reservoir opened to the north of the mill in 1863. There are now a dozen, covering 300 acres and serving 1.5 million customers – as well as forming one of London’s biggest fisheries. The Coppermill Stream runs through the middle of the reservoirs.

Nowadays, the Coppermills building is used as stores and most of the vicinity is occupied by Thames Water’s filter beds and pumping stations, which replaced the Lea Bridge waterworks in 1972. Water from the New River arrives here after its journey south through Hertfordshire and the Coppermills water treatment works is a major supplier to the London ring water main. The regularly-tested Coppermills chlorine siren will warn locals if there is ever a leak of toxic gas .

The neighbouring residential area lies on the western edge of Walthamstow. This is a socially and culturally mixed locality and the four largest ethnic groups here are of white British, Pakistani, Polish and Caribbean heritage. Coppermills - Hidden London (

Walking up the inside stairs of Coppermill to the viewing platform (a lift is available for people with disabilities)

From the viewing platform (looking over the West Warwick Reservoir)

Mute Swans in Coppermill Stream, which runs through London's biggest fisheries; which is why it is popular with the Kingfishers

Herons on an island is Reservoir 2

A Blue Tit nearby

At this point I met a London Wildlife Trust warden; when we discussed what I had seen he asked me if I had seen the Goldeneye Ducks on the Lockwood Reservoir; I had missed them when I walked around it first, so I walked back to the Lockwood and Maynard Reservoirs

The northern reservoirs (Low and High Maynard Reservoirs and the Lockwood Reservoir)

Moorhens and Coots feeding in the concrete overflow from the Low Maynard Reservoir

Coots in the greenery round the Low Hayward Reservoir

The fringes of the reservoir contain species of plants uncommon in Greater London, including:

  • Caltha palustris Marsh-marigold

  • Schoenaoplectus lacustris Common Club-rush

  • Typha angustifolia Lesser bulrush

  • Carex x subgracilis The 'graceful' sedge Low Maynard Reservoir - Wikipedia

Lockwood Reservoir

The Goldeneye! It looks as if six Goldeneye are wintering, one down on last year's total and two below 2020's total so the trend is in keeping with the decrease across London. They have visited almost every reservoir but can most easily be seen on Lockwood where they can be surprisingly approachable. Walthamstow Birders: Search results for goldeneye (09.02.22) But I only saw one Goldeneye. These photos are all of that one bord

Goldeneye Ducks, Bucephala clangula, are rare residents in the UK. They are more common as winter migrants; but still red list in the UK for conservation. RSPB "They are best looked for in winter on lakes, large rivers and sheltered coasts, particularly in north and west Britain". I didn't expect to see them in London. There were 6 reported on Lockwood Reservoir.

A Great-Crested Grebe and a Black-Headed Gull on the Lockwood Reservoir Island

The City of London - with the Gherkin and the Shard in the background (about 7km south of Walthamstow Wetlands))

A pair of Mallard by Low Maynard Reservoir

A Canada Goose

A Greylag Goose

A Wigeon on Low Maynard Reservoir

A male Tufted Duck with very windswept tuft

A Grebe

When I left the Walthamstow Reservoirs at 4.00pm, instead of going back to Victoria from Tottenham Hale, I walked a bit further toward Walthamstow, and got the tube back from Blackhorse Road tube

This is a mural by Gods Own Junkyard on the side of the Umit Supermarket.

The new housing developments in Blackhorse Road seem part of a continuous process of gentrification of working class areas on London, making housing unaffordable for ordinary Londoners. The Blackhorse Mills rented flats I walked past, start at £1.615 per month (£19,3800 pa) for basically a tiny studio flat. Blackhorse Mills - 1 Bedroom. The average salary in Walthamstow is £24,943 pa. Walthamstow salary stats | Adzuna

The large demographic change to this area of London is highlighted in this blog: Blackhorse Road, on the edge of Walthmastow is indeed an area, where in the past ten years, creators and makers have moved in. It is not only home to The William Morris Gallery (one of the greatest makers of all time), but also craft jean makers (Blackhorse lane ateliers), local makers, architects and craft brewers.

It was to one such craft brewery that I was headed. A stroll down Blackhorse Lane and into an industrial-looking zone led me to a long queue for entry into what looked like an ordinary warehouse building - Truman's Social Club. But, one step inside and wow, the outside impression had deceived.

This abandoned Truman brewery was bought in 2010 by James Morgan and Michael-George Hemus and transformed with clever architectural lighting and interiors into a large and airy cultural centre for small scale brewing, eating, drinking and congregating. Welcome to the Home of People Who Make and Create! – treasure+keep (

In this area of London, the needs of low-income Londoners, property developers, richer Londoners and nature are not necessarily in balance.

This bas-relief sculpture, made by the sculptor, David McFall, see the tribute site: Home (, is on the side of the Blackhorse Road Station, this Victoria line station opened on 1 September 1968; Walthamstow has changed greatly since then.



bottom of page