We are often asked, particularly by people planning to visit London, for information about birdwatching sites within easy reach of central London.
Of the 1500 square kilometres of Greater London, almost half is classified as green open space and maybe half of that is reckoned to be valuable wildlife habitat including woodland and parks, meadows, heath, grazing marshes and farmland, rivers, canals and ponds, cemeteries and railway embankments. So the question is not so much where to go as where to start. Here are a few ideas.
Be sure also to check our Group's programme of field trips as we will be visiting some of these sites as well as coastal and countryside sites further away. We also offer a programme of indoor evening meetings (held in the Knightsbridge area) with illustrated talks on a variety of topics including birding, conservation and general natural history interest.
|Conservation area in grounds of Alexandra Palace, well-known landmark. Mainly parkland, migrant as well as resident birds, many woodland species, winter wildfowl on reservoir. Signposted off Muswell Hill N10. Pedestrian access also via Bedford Road N22. Adjacent to Alexandra Palace station (rail from Kings Cross or Moorgate) and near Wood Green (Piccadilly Line).|
|In the Lee Valley, north London (Herts). The former gravel pits can be viewed from various points around the boundary, including the footbridge over the River Lee Navigation. Waders, wildfowl and warblers. Hobby possible. Accessible from St Margarets station (rail from Liverpool Street).|
|To the west of London, just north of Ashford, Middlesex. A good mix of habitats with lakes, reedbeds and grassland, though the trees are still maturing. To get there leave Ashford toward Heathrow on the B3003 northwards (Clockhouse Lane) - there's an information centre and car park on the right about 500m before you get to the junction with the A30. Or take bus H26 from Hatton Cross station (Piccadilly Line) to the entrance on the other side of the park, next to the cemetery in Bedfont Road.|
|To the north west of London, on the north side of the North Circular Road (the A406) just west of its junction with Hendon Broadway (A5). Good all the year round. Wintering waders and wildfowl. Easiest public access is via Cool Oak Lane, NW9. Nearest stations - Hendon (rail from Kings Cross) or Hendon Central (Northern Line). See the Welsh Harp Conservation Group for more details, map, sightings and volunteering.|
|Adjacent to Hampton Court Palace and grounds, and near the River Thames, Bushy Park is within easy reach of Central London. The habitat mainly consists of large areas of rough grassland and woodland. There are two major ponds within the park, and the large Woodland Garden area is home to many birds. The park also contains a large herd of red deer. As well as the more common garden bird species, it is also possible to see skylark, meadow pipit, green and great-spotted woodpecker, mistle thrush, and summer visitors including blackcap and chiffchaff. Water birds include great-crested grebe, and there is a small population of mandarins and Egyptian geese. The park can be reached from Hampton Court Station, and a number of buses stop nearby.|
|A public park at Watford, Herts - on the north west edge of London. The entrance to the park is a short walk from Watford (Metropolitan Line) station. Walk through the park to the river and canal, which have paths beside them. You can also take the public path across the golf course to go into Whippendell Woods. In winter, redwing are usually seen in the park, and it is good for common woodland species, plus good chance of kingfisher and grey wagtail near the water.|
|Part of London's "Green Belt". To the east of London and south of Romford, Essex, off Dagenham Road. A short walk from Dagenham East or Elm Park stations (District Line). Consists mainly of scrub and grazed meadows and some open water. Wintering wildfowl, finches etc. Raptors may be seen. Public footpaths give access to most parts.|
|A large and beautiful area of forest to the north east of London with extensive areas of mature deciduous woodland. Several areas of water, which attract wintering wildfowl, in particular at Connaught Water. A good chance of most common woodland birds in both winter and summer, with more unusual species possible at migration. The main paths can be busy, but a walk into the quieter areas can be very rewarding. Nearest stations are Loughton (Central Line) and Theydon Bois (Central Line).|
|Fryent Country Park is a Local Nature Reserve, covering an area of 103 hectares. It is situated approximately 15km north-west of central London. The highest point is Barn Hill at 83m, which offers views of Wembley and the new stadium. Gotfords Hill reaches to 63m and offers excellent views of Harrow and other Middlesex locations. It is possible to follow the Capital Ring footpath through the Park. A noteworthy feature of the eastern half of the Park are the hay meadows. These contain a variety of wildlife, and can be seen at their best in the summer before cutting. There are also many old hedgerows which have been restored. One, Hell Lane, is thought to date from Saxon times. The closest tube station is Kingsbury (Jubilee Line).|
|Within easy reach of central London - can be entered from several directions, and is easy to find with an A-Z. Keep to the part that is east of Spaniards Road. Lots of woodland species to be seen.|
|One of the central London parks and good for woodland species. Nearest station is Holland Park (Central Line).|
|A large heath to the west of London. Access from Staines Road (A315). Particularly good for migrant passerines.|
|Two adjoining Royal Parks in central London, with very easy access. Both contain water - in Hyde Park, the Serpentine (gulls, geese, ducks, great crested grebes) and in Kensington Gardens, the smaller Round Pond (gulls, ducks, geese, mute swans, etc.). Plus a variety of woodland birds in the extensive trees - woodpecker, tree creeper.|
|West London. The Royal Botanical Gardens, World Heritage site. A lovely place to visit, not just for the birds. There are cafes and a shop, as well as two large lakes and a smaller wildlife pond. Several varieties of geese and ducks (wild and collection), plus other common water birds, woodpeckers, common woodland birds including nuthatch and treecreeper, ring-necked parakeets can often be seen and heard. Wintering flocks of tits and other birds can be seen at the feeders that are put out for them. Access from Kew Gardens station (District Line). See Kew Gardens website for more details, maps, events, admission prices and opening hours.|
|The land bordering the river Lee (or Lea) stretches from east London northwards for several miles, passing near Waltham Forest and Cheshunt. It includes the Lee Valley Country Park [map], Rye Meads RSPB reserve [map] and Amwell gravel pit [map] as well as reservoirs and other open spaces. It forms a migration corridor through London and makes a string of superb birding sites.|
Lee Valley Country Park
|Famous for its wintering bitterns, which can often be seen from the official Bittern Watch Point at Fishers Green (near end of Stubbings Hall Lane). Several other hides open to public at weekends. Canal, river, lakes, reedbeds, Hall Marsh scrape, woodland and scrub. Many wintering, passage and breeding water birds and woodland species. Also good in summer for dragonflies / damselflies and butterflies - particularly Cornmill Meadows [map] north across the road from the ruins of the historic Waltham Abbey. The Country Park is a part of the much larger Lee Valley Regional Park, see above. Accessible from Cheshunt station (rail from Liverpool Street), or Waltham Cross station (on same line) for local buses to Waltham Abbey for Cornmill Meadows.|
|Across the Thames from Hammersmith, west London. Entry is from Queen Elizabeth Walk at southern edge of site - near crossroads at south end of Castelnau. The site of the former Barn Elms reservoirs and SSSI, now redeveloped by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust as a showcase for various wetland habitats. Extensive deep and shallow lakes, shingle banks, reedbeds, grazing meadows. Excellent for wetland species. Also a collection of wildfowl from around the world, an educational centre, pond dipping. Several hides, visitor centre, cafe, shop. Admission charge for non-WWT members. Can be reached via towpath on south side of Thames, eastwards from Hammersmith bridge, or by bus from bus station above Hammersmith station (District and Piccadilly Lines). See Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust for more details.|
|The "Leg of Mutton Nature Reserve" between Barnes and Hammersmith, west London, and next to the Thames. A small nature reserve with public access. Wintering ducks. Breeding water birds and woodland birds. Can be combined with a walk along the riverside or a visit to the nearby London Wetland Centre (see above). Access from Lonsdale Road or via towpath on south side of Thames, west from Hammersmith bridge.|
|The estate of Osterley Park and House is 146 hectares of farmland, lakes, semi natural grassland and mixed woodland, with mature and veteran trees and extensive dead wood habitat. Good for woodland birds, wintering ducks & thrushes, breeding grebes & Mandarin, visiting common terns, wild flower meadows in spring and summer. Accessible from Osterley station (Piccadilly Line) or from bus stops near Osterley Library. Car parking available on site, also toilets & a cafe. See Get outdoors at Osterley Park and House for details of outdoor activities, events and wildlife.|
|The RSPB reserve of Rainham, Wennington and Aveley Marsh is on the north bank of the Thames and opened for public access in 2006. It consists of a large area of former flood meadows now managed predominantly as wetland, marsh and pools with an area of woodland. The reserve attracts birds on migration, waders, raptors and wintering wildfowl. There is a visitor centre overooking the reserve, with a cafe, toilets and a shop. Admission charge for non RSPB members. The reserve entrance is a bit over half a mile's walk west from Purfleet Station (rail from Fenchurch Street), including a riverside path with views across the Thames for part of the way.|
|Another of the Royal Parks in central London. Many water birds, wild and captive, to be seen at close quarters. Also common woodland birds plus more unusual birds passing through at spring and autumn migration. Herons breed in the trees on the lake.|
|Richmond, south west London. Can be reached by car, bus, tube or train (a bit of a walk from Richmond station - District Line and rail from Waterloo - but North Sheen and Norbiton are both nearer - rail from Waterloo). The largest (several square kilometres) of the Royal Parks and with a more rural feel than the inner London parks, which means it attracts some birds which do not appear in the more urban central London parks. Water at Pen Ponds (ducks, geese, gulls, mute swan, cormorant, heron) plus a wide range of woodland birds. Birds of prey may be seen. The park also contains herds of red deer and fallow deer.|
|Tidal waterway with breeding herring and lesser black-backed gulls, black redstart, grey and pied wagtails; migrating terns including black tern; wintering shelduck, teal, redshank, dunlin, grey plover, oystercatcher, black-headed and common and yellow-legged gulls. The signposted "Thames Path" gives good access along south bank, east of Westminster; river boats are an alternative.|
|In the Lee Valley, a short walk from Rye House station (rail from Liverpool Street). Rye Meads RSPB Reserve is the nearest RSPB reserve to central London. Breeding common terns, warblers and grebes. More areas of the reserve have recently been opened to visitors, with additional hides and a new visitor centre. Entrance is on north side of Rye Road less than half a mile east of Rye House station. (Reserve was formerly known as Rye House Marsh)|
|South east of London. A country park, open to the public, containing a variety of habitats, including a lake. Near Elmers End station (rail from London Bridge).|
|Despite being relatively small and crowded, this Royal Park contains an extensive lake and supports many birds. The park is right in central London and very easily accessible. The lake contains a collection of captive birds, and also attracts wild ducks and geese, both in the winter and some which breed in the park. A good place to see birds at close range. Well known for its "captive" pelicans.|
|To the west of London. Viewing from the public causeway which crosses between the two halves of this reservoir. Leave Ashford on the B378 northwards (Church Lane / Stanwell Road / Town Lane) and the path is on the left half a mile after you cross the A30. Good for wintering waders and wildfowl.|
|Semi-natural and remnant ancient woodland managed by the London Wildlife Trust, with breeding warblers, tawny owl, sparrowhawk, all three woodpeckers, tits, finches, treecreeper, nuthatch, goldcrest and occasionally firecrest. Stronghold of stag beetle and other nationally rare invertebrates. Entrance in Crescent Wood Road, SE26, near Sydenham Hill station (rail from Victoria).|
|Close to Richmond Park. Good for all woodland birds. Nearest station is Wimbledon (District Line and rail from Waterloo).|
|Disused gravel pits, to the west of London. Ring-necked parakeets. Attracts smew in winter. A short walk form Wraysbury station (rail from Waterloo).|
In addition to the stations mentioned, access is also possible via the network of London bus routes. See the National Rail and Transport for London websites for train timetables, transport maps, journey planners, travel news, etc.
For a more comprehensive guide try "Where to Watch Birds in the London Area" by Dominic Mitchell published by Christopher Helm, or other volumes in the same series for other parts of Britain. For up-to-date information on birding around London, including the latest rarities, visit the London Birders website. See also the list of RSPB reserves.
Please note that while London remains a generally safe city, many of these locations are isolated and vulnerable to petty crime and you should take sensible precautions. Do not leave valuables, jackets or bags on show when you leave your car parked.
Rural sites around London can be several degrees colder and are exposed to more "wind chill" than the city.
In mid-winter it will be getting dark soon after 4pm.