Walthamstow Marsh Nature Reserve, Coppermill Fields and Leyton Marsh are all part of this Green Flag award-winning site in the Lea Bridge area. The reserve is one of the last remaining examples of London’s once widespread floodplain grasslands, and a space to treasure for many reasons!
Please also note:
Be mindful of signage round the site and adhere instructions
No material dead or alive should be taken from the reserve
Please keep cycling to hard surface paths and avoid damaging the marsh vegetation
Dogs should be kept out of ditches, ponds and long vegetation to avoid disturbance or harm to wildlife
Dogs must be kept under close control at all times and on leads where signage indicates so
Fires and BBQs are strictly forbidden anywhere on the park. Grassland fires are a real danger, especially during the dry season and pose threat to the safety of visitors, cattle and wildlife
History of the marshes
Walthamstow Marsh is a small area of wetland bordering the River Lea and nestled between Hackney and Waltham Forest. It’s one of the last remaining examples of London’s once vast and widespread floodplain grasslands. Since Saxon times onwards and well into the 20th century the marsh was used as Lammas Land, a place where local people could cut hay and graze their livestock.
During the industrial revolution, the land retained its agricultural use, though increasingly hemmed in by surrounding developments. As interest was lost in hay making and grazing, the local council acquired the site with plans to develop it for recreational use though WWII and a period of austerity prevented these plans for going ahead.
In 1909, the pioneer, Sir Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe became the first Englishman to fly an all-British made triplane (The Yellow Terror) on Walthamstow Marshes. A blue plaque commemorating his efforts is located at the Western end of the Viaduct where he built his machine.
World War II left its scars on the landscape here as it did throughout the Lea Valley. Signs of anti-landing trenches and the impacts of bombs from the war are still visible today.
In 1965, Walthamstow Marshes was acquired by Lee Valley Regional Park Authority as part of its plans to acquire land which now form the Lee Valley Regional Park. After pressure from local campaigners to protect the marshes from development, Walthamstow Marshes was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1985 and since designated a nature reserve by the park authority. The reserve is now actively managed by LVRPA with the aims of retaining its original grassland meadows and marshlands and increasing its value for wildlife, while providing for informal recreation.
You can keep up to date with the marshes with our Rangers Musing on the Marshes Newsletter
Walthamstow Marshes is locally and regionally important for its variety of semi-natural wetland habitats with over 400 plant species. Many of these wild plants have adapted to the seasonal flooding conditions experienced on site. Nothing new has been planted here and the site has never been ploughed or fertilised. Nearly all plant life that grows does so from the existing seed bank in the soils. Adder’s-tongue Fern is one species of plant which grows here between April and August and is often an indicator of ancient grasslands.
Creeping Marshwort is a small white flowering plant restricted to an area of the South Marsh known as The Scrape. This plant is classified as being critically endangered and so rare in the UK that it is only found here and at two other sites in England.
Cattle were re-introduced to the site in 2003 after a gap of 69 years and help manage the marsh’s diversity of plants and animals. Conservation grazing is carried out between May and November of each year and then move off further north in the park to overwinter.
The woodlands are a recent and unintentional addition to the marshes. They are managed using traditional practices such as coppicing and pollarding during the winter. Woodland edge and garden birds frequent the wood attracted by the tree cover and food resource. Deadwood provides a valuable resource for fungi and insects as well.
The marshes are home to over 500 species of insect which including butterflies and dragonflies. The Willow Emerald Damselfly is one recent arrival to the marshes and has a restricted distribution within London.
Grass Snake and Common Toad begin to appear as soon as warm temperatures return in spring attracted to the ponds and ditches where they breed, feed and hibernate.
One of Britain’s rarest and most elusive mammals, the Water Vole, lives and breeds in the ditches and ponds here. Look out for signs of its presence with its distinctive piles of grey tic-tac shaped droppings marking its territory. They’re best noticed early in the day in spring before the vegetation grows tall.
You’re also likely to see a great deal of birdlife with 136 different species recorded using the marshes. Peregrine Falcons watch closely from the nearby pylons and Kestrels hover above the fields. Sedge and Reed Warblers arrive in spring and summer to breed and wildfowl frequent flooded parts during the winter.
So come and celebrate nature’s comeback at Walthamstow Marshes!
Landscaping works around Ox-bow Island
You may have noticed some changes to the area around Ox-Bow Island since 2018. We have previously shared the details of this work in newsletters, Ranger Drop- In Sessions, Ranger walk rounds, signage erected in the near vicinity, information on the Park’s Website and through emails sent to Councillors, local residents and the local usergroup. Through these media we explained how we are working with the Canal & River Trust and Thames 21 on a five year project to:
improve the habitat in and around the island
tackle vandalism, fly tipping, anti-social behaviour and non-native invasive species which are damaging existing habitats
create new reedbeds
improve access to the island
plant native wildflowers, trees and shrubs
install bat and bird boxes, deadwood piles for insects and reptiles
set up a trained working group of local volunteers to help look after this wildlife site.
The next phase of the project began in December 2020 when Lee Valley Regional Park Rangers, with help from Lea Bridge Conservation Volunteers, planted over 150 native trees and shrubs along the northern boundary of the Lee Valley Ice Centre car park. The planting will develop into a native hedge to attract more wildlife and will also act as a natural barrier to screen the car park.
This follows earlier works which have taken place as part of this project, which began in 2018, including tree safety works, the removal of invasive plants and some landscape re-profiling to accommodate further enhancements. There was also some pruning and felling of a number of trees, some of which were diseased, to allow more light to reach the ground and provide newly planted trees and plants with more space to grow and flourish.
Other improvements are set to take place over the course of this year and next year. There will be more tree planting and seeding of the soils with wild flowers. A new land bridge and footpath will be installed improving access for visitors to the island and helping to discourage anti-social behaviour on site.
The works will also feature improvements to the channel’s water quality and will include a mix of new aquatic planting along with the installation of a new reedbed north of the island. Living, floating booms will be installed at either end of the island to help prevent litter flowing into the channel from the river, helping to reduce pollution.
To protect and maintain the site going forward in the longer term and with the assistance of Thames 21, the Authority will form, train and support a local adoption group to carry out regular clean-ups, vegetation management and help with further development of the site.
Alternatively, call Ranger Services on 020 8988 7565.
Lee Vally Ice Centre
This car park is now CLOSED while the centre is redeveloped. Car parking is availabe close by at the WaterWorks Centre.
Free parking. There are plans to close this car park, more details are available here.
The route for hacking on the Walthamstow Marshes is shown on the Walthamstow Marshes Riding Routes Map below. Some routes are available all year round but parts are restricted during the winter months. Alternatively, you can download the map here
Bridleways code of conduct
The marshes are shared with the public – there may be walkers, cyclists, children and animals, and riders must act with care and courtesy around them
Riders should remain in walk when sharing a path with other members of the public
Riders should not canter when near to other members of the public
Riders must not gallop on any part of the Marshes
Riders must stick to the routes shown on the map as appropriate for the time of year