Members day at WWT Slimbridge

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WWT slimbridge hero

Back in May, scores of Boundless members came along to enjoy Boundless Member Days at three WWT sites read on to find out why this is such a popular membership benefit

Boundless members get the VIP treatment at WWT Slimbridge…

There are birds everywhere, and often thrillingly up-close, at WWT Slimbridge. This is the flagship site of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), a squawking, quacking, cooing, cawing visitor centre and nature reserve alongside the River Severn estuary in rural Gloucestershire. It’s a Site of Specific Scientific Interest, a Ramsar site (which means it’s a wetlands area of international importance) and a Special Protection Area. It’s also home to the world’s largest collection of exotic, rare and endangered ducks, geese and swans. And as part of your Boundless membership you can now visit for free, alongside entry to all the other WWT sites around the country, too.

sprout the pelican slimbridge

It’s not even 9am yet, but already there’s a flurry of activity at the Peng Observatory at WWT Slimbridge. While the lagoon beyond the picture windows is a flutter with wildfowl - including an elegant pair of common cranes - on a member day - this is the fast track entrance for Boundless members…

Lanyards and kids’ packs are being readied; prize draw parcels, wrapped in avian-print paper, are being laid out; and a large splatter of bird poop is being scrubbed off a table. Fran Penny, Visitor Experience Manager for Slimbridge Wetland Centre, just shrugs: it happens. “I had a duck in my office the other day,” she says. “Occupational hazard.” 

girls at WWT slimbridge

A big perk of being a Boundless member is getting free unlimited access to all 10 WWT sites across the UK; an even bigger perk is attending on a member day such as this, when there’s a bit of special treatment thrown in. “Getting their ‘VIP’ lanyards has made their day,” confirm Donna and Gareth Milford, nodding to their two kids. They’ve both brought a friend, and the group of youngsters is bent over trays of leaves, sticks and cotton wool, absorbed in a nest-building challenge at the Living Wetland Theatre. Donna and Gareth look relaxed. “We could bring up to six children, and it’s more fun for them if they’re here with their mates. 

Certainly, there’s something for everyone at this sprawling, 260-hectare (650-acre) site. At the noisy bird-feeding zone I chat to Eric and Eileen Gilbert, Boundless members for 63 years, and their granddaughter Daisy. She’s keen to see the flamingos, but also on splashing about in Welly Boot Land, as “we couldn’t go when we came with school because the Year 5 boys would just go and get wet and make the coach all messy”. 

group canoeing at slimbridge

Sarah Baxter joined the Slimbridge event to meet Boundless members and hear their thoughts on the day…

I meet long-time Boundless members Barbara and Paul Head, who used to live just across the river and have visited several times – “You get something different out of every visit, every time of year.” I catch the Hackett family as they return to dry land, practically bouncing after their paddle around the Canoe Safari trail: “We saw fish, blue dragonflies, baby moorhens! The geese were chasing us!” And I sit in the Martin Smith Hide near a man with a large telephoto lens, who is enraptured by a rather handsome dabbling duck. “It’s a garganey,” he whispers. “You don’t get many of them around. I’ve never been lucky enough to see one before. Beautiful.” 

Accessibility for all at WWT Slimbridge

hut at slimbridge

Slimbridge’s layout, with its flat tarmac paths, wide boardwalks, ramps and lifts also means that it’s largely accessible to all – the biggest obstructions to exploring are the geese and their fluffball goslings, which waddle hither and thither with scant regard for human traffic. 

Such accessibility is handy for Ron and Lorna Brake. Ron, who is nearly 92 and has been a Boundless member for 60-odd years, is behind the wheel of his new mobility scooter (“folds up like a suitcase – brilliant”). They’re motoring slowly through the nene exhibit, dedicated to the charismatic Hawaiian geese that WWT founder Sir Peter Scott helped save from extinction via a captive breeding programme here in the 1950s. 

Boundless members at slimbridge

Yes, it is. It’s mid-May, the verges are green and flower-bright, the birds are spring-busy. Coots are making nest renovations, male ruffs are flaunting their showy neckwear, moorhens are marshalling their downy chicks, flamingos – different species, on a spectrum from pale blush to hot pink – balance one-legged like glamorous yogis. The sky is filled with kiss-chasing oystercatchers, swans flying in squadrons with loud, steady wingbeats, the trumpet of the crested screamer (audible for two miles) and a marvellous, manifold twitterati. 

Open air talks and activities at WWT

aviary at slimbridge

Visitors can wander at will between the 13 hides, the aviary, the pools and the playground, or plan around events that are laid on throughout the day. Clearly, a lot of visitors have planned around the otter talk. At 11.30am, the area by Haha’s enclosure is heaving. And she doesn’t disappoint. 

“You’re getting show-off Haha today,” says ranger Leah as she flings fish to the sleek North American river otter. Haha chases it down, snaking sinuously through the water, diving with a quick flick of her tail and twisting on to her back to eat, performing brunch-time acrobatics. 

birdwatchers in hide slimbridge

Leah talks through Haha’s behaviour but focuses on how these mammals are being harmed by the pet trade. “You might see them on Instagram in a bow tie and think they’re so cute,” she cautions, “but you don’t want an otter as a pet.” 

Social media has become a big problem, driving the black market for animals. As a conservation charity, WWT provides both a great day out with a wonderful array of wildlife and serious food for thought. At the live bird demonstration later in the day, we learn about Sprout the pink-backed pelican, with his impressive six-and-a-half-foot wingspan and his capacious gular pouch, which he ripples to cool down. But we also find out that these birds, found across Africa, are now extinct from Madagascar due to logging. 

The educational aspect is enhanced by volunteer ‘Guides in the Hides’, who are happy to chat to anyone who comes along. “We get a mixture of people,” says Helen Bojaniwska, who is at a telescope at the top of the Estuary Tower, at the far north of the centre. Before us, the view stretches across the fields and ponds to the voluminous Severn and the Forest of Dean beyond. “You get the twitchers, who come when something rare turns up, but also non-experts – I might talk to them about our projects or the amazing landscape.” 

Flamingos at slimbridge

Helen guides my eye to the avocets – “always exciting, they’re relatively new to breeding here” – and to Monty, one of the birds reintroduced in 2010 as part of the Great Crane Project, an attempt to secure the future of the species in the UK. The population is now the highest it has been for hundreds of years, with at least 200 resident. Helen is particularly delighted by the four cranes just visible in the far distance. “I’m pretty sure they’re not ringed,” she says, “which means they’re properly wild birds, possibly offspring of the project birds.” 

family at WWT slimbridge

We stand silently for a while, scanning the horizon, feeling the breeze on our cheeks, gazing at the blue-green world, the fluffy clouds, a rabbit hopping in the shade. Something somewhere calls. “Just closing your eyes and listening to the birds...” Helen trails off, but I know exactly what she means. “Even if you don’t know what bird it is, it’s so good for you to be in touch with nature in this way,” she continues. I couldn’t agree more. 

Do more with Boundless

Free admission at all WWT sites 

You can take advantage of free unlimited access to Slimbridge, and the other nine WWT sites, as part of your Boundless membership. Not only that, but you can also bring a friend and up to six children completely free of charge, too.

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