I’ve had two people both mention to me how great Welney Wetland Centre is for a day out, so not knowing much about it we set out on a mild spring morning with our picnic lunch, ready for a day of birdwatching. Now, I have to admit that in no way am I an expert on birds. I can spot a robin, blackbird and blue tit; but that’s about the extent of my knowledge.
The Welney Wetland Centre is about 30 miles east of Peterborough in the middle of the fens. We used sat nav to direct us, and at times I really did wonder where we were going as the roads got narrower and narrower! Even as we got closer to our destination I couldn’t see anything until we were almost right at the car park. If you want a day out away from the hustle and bustle of the city or town; this is it.
What’s at the Welney Wetland Centre?
Welney is a Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) nature reserve. The WWT looks after 3000 hectares of wetlands in the UK, as well as leading the way on research into wetland and wildlife conservation. The WWT believe in letting people get up close to nature and the human touch is very light at Welney. There’s a visitor centre, and apart from the bird hides, there’s not much else. This really is a place to get back to basics.
Welney does cater for families. The paths are all buggy-friendly and all the bird hides have access ramps. During summer there are family events including pond dipping for kids as well as self-led activity trails. There are also little information boards along the paths with questions and ‘did you know’ facts. Over holidays there are also activities and crafts for children. In the main observatory there is a blackboard and a couple of games for kids. Just note, in case you are asked; there is no playground.
We hired some binoculars when we arrived. As mentioned, I know next to nothing about birds, and even less about using binoculars, as I put them up to my eyes the wrong way round the first time. This was met with great laughter by Little Miss Dad, who then proceeded to remind me the rest of the day about the correct way to use them!
There are six hides on the site and they all had information boards in them about the birds you could see. They also had bird guidebooks as well. There were quite a few people in the main hide and they were very helpful, pointing out where to see a lapwing, oystercatcher and redshank. We also saw lots of shelducks and tufted ducks (or ducks, as I called them, but was corrected!).
Little Miss enjoyed looking through the binoculars. I have no idea whether she could see anything or not, but she said she could.
I must say, I actually really enjoyed just taking the time to sit and watch the birds. I don’t often have time to just sit, so this was quite a relaxing day out for me. Little Miss liked looking through the hide windows, and when we were in the main observatory, she quite happily drew on the blackboard while I talked to the volunteer about the swans.
Welney is well-known for the swan feeding over winter. We were a couple of weeks too late to see this (they finish feeding the swans beginning of March), but there were still some Bewick swans on the reserve when we were there. The swan feeds start again in October, so we will definitely be going back later this year.
As well as birds, the reserve is home to dragonflies, butterflies, moths, fish, grass snakes, voles, hares and more. From April to October, kids can go pond dipping in designated areas and the dragonfly ponds are open.
Downstairs in the visitor’s centre is Fenland Worlds Discovery Centre, a display providing an insight into how the people of the fens used to make their livelihoods from the environment. There is also classroom where there are crafts and activities during school holidays.
I did really enjoy our visit, and Little Miss did as well. It was something very different from what we normally do, and I’m glad we made the trek out to the fens. I look forward to going back over winter to see the swan feeding.
All the important bits
Welney Wetland Centre is 33 miles east of Peterborough, near Wisbech. It is two miles south of Welney village turning off the A1101 at the New Bedford Suspension Bridge, signposted Ten Mile Bank. Use postcode PE14 9TN.
Car parking is free and there seems to be plenty of it.
Prices and opening times
Tickets for adults are £7.75 (including Gift Aid). Concessions are £5.90 and children (4 – 16 years) £3.85. Under 4s are free. Family tickets are £20.70 (2 adults, 2 children). See the Welney Wetland Centre website for opening times.
Eating and drinking
There is the Wigeon Café in the visitor’s centre with a full range of hot and cold food, drinks and meals. We didn’t eat at the café. We brought a picnic lunch and ate it in one of the bird hides. There are picnic tables around the reserve.
There are toilets and a baby changing room in the visitor’s centre. Just note that these are the only facilities on the reserve. There are no toilets on the reserve.