Washington, on the outskirts of Sunderland in the north-east of England, seems an unlikely place for a day’s birdwatching. Although Washington Old Hall, the greatly remodelled home of George Washington’s distant ancestor William de Wessyngton, is nearby, the area is best known for its heavy industry. The coal and chemical industries were both big business hereabouts, and although these are long-gone a variety of other industries have taken their place.
Who on earth would choose to put a bird reserve here, in such an unnatural and unpromising landscape?
The answer is, of course, the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT), and good for them. It must have been a brave move at the time (the 1970s), but it was a stroke of genius.
Like other WWT sites, Washington Wetland Centre combines managed habitats for wild birds and displays of captive birds, most of which are part of conservation-driven breeding programmes. There is a strong emphasis on learning and education, with the Centre giving many local children their first close contact with the natural world.
There’s also a Field of Dreams element to this bird reserve: build it and they will come. However improbable it may seem that wildlife could thrive here amongst the industry and urban sprawl, the WWT took the risk and have been richly rewarded. Birds galore and other wildlife – including otters – now call this place home, or drop in for a while during their annual migrations.
The WWT is a massively important part of our conservation infrastructure. It was instrumental in saving the nene (Hawaiian Goose) from the brink of extinction, and remains at the heart of wetland-focussed conservation projects both in the UK and overseas. Its stated vision is:
We conserve, restore and create wetlands, save wetland wildlife, and inspire everyone to value the amazing things healthy wetlands achieve for people and nature.Source: WWT website, retrieved 7 October 2019
Mrs P and I are passionate supporters, and life members, of the WWT, so it was a pleasure to drop in at the Washington Wetland Centre on our way back from Scotland earlier this year.
For once the wetland birds were unremarkable as the autumn migration had not yet begun. However there were plenty of other treats to savour, including common terns bringing back beaks full of fish for their youngsters.
We were also thrilled to see a family of Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, and a very confiding jay which jumped manicly between branch and feeder, then back again. Not at all what we’d expected would be the highlights of a visit to a wetland reserve, but great just the same.
Washington Wetland Centre may be an unlikely place for birdwatching, but it definitely delivers the goods. It’s a place we’ll happily continue to visit whenever we’re in the area.