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Review: Slimbridge Wetland Centre

PUBLISHED: 12:13 04 August 2015 | UPDATED: 12:13 04 August 2015

One of the LEGO figures delighting children at the Wetland Centre

One of the LEGO figures delighting children at the Wetland Centre

Archant

As work-experience with Cotswold Life, Holly Clarke from Downfield Sixth Form in Stroud visited the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge, catching up with happenings at the centre and meeting the new LEGO structures delighting children until September 2015

Slimbridge Wetland Centre, a bird and wildlife reserve tucked away in a cluster of cosy lanes, has always been a firm and popular choice with tourists and locals alike. A modern-looking building made of wood, it sits on the edge of the extensive nature reserve, a myriad of ponds and rivers housing numerous different species of mammals and birds, with the impressive observation tower standing proudly over it all.

The vast number of different activities Slimbridge offers is staggering - whether young or old, it’s easy to spend a whole day here. From playing the day away at Welly Boot Land, the children’s water-themed play area, to attending one of many wildlife talks about amphibians, otters, or cranes, there’s something here for you. However, it was the new LEGO trail that seemed to be attracting the most attention. Until September 6, Slimbridge is home to nine giant LEGO structures which are dotted around the park, always surrounded by a gaggle of children shouting excitedly to their parents that they’ve “found another!”. The first LEGO statue I came across on my course through the wetlands was the Northern Mallard, a huge figure standing majestically over its quacking non-LEGO counterparts. As I followed the paths surrounded by water, and dense, leafy foliage, I noticed yet more LEGO animals, including the Nene, a flamboyant flamingo, and a very sweet otter that proved very popular. The excitement of the children was catching; I soon found myself looking out for more and hoping to find them all!

Children ran across the path, throwing birdseed to the patient ducks and sometimes impatient red breasted geese, which enjoyed pecking the seed right out of your palm. The only birds I was slightly wary of were the swans, as two proud feathered parents marched rather protectively out in front of us, either side of three adorably fluffy cygnets, like a scene straight out of a storybook. A flash of blue - the distinctive beak of the Puna Teal - caught my eye as I carried on, following the winding paths through the wetlands, only to be overshadowed by a magnificent crowd of Chilean flamingos, trotting along the riverbank like some extravagant pink parade.

Next was the canoe safari, which turned out to be harder than you might think! Navigating the labyrinth of the safari proved a challenging but fun; people of all ages were enjoying the trial of canoeing down narrow river after narrow river, each identical and barricaded in by high banks, making it almost too easy to get lost in the seemingly peaceful water! However much we struggled paddling our canoe, it was always deeply reassuring to see the others boaters trying to turn their boat out of a dead end, or bumping into the sides of the riverbank. Despite not seeing many of the wildlife whose habitats we were canoeing through, it was an amusing and rather adventurous exploration of a more intimate section of the wetlands.

But perhaps the most interesting part of the day was attending the crane talk. Around ten members of the public and I gathered in a small wooden hut on the edge of the crane lake to hear one of the workers talk about their programme of raising cranes at the wetlands. Eggs are taken from the nests of cranes in the wild and are raised by so-called “foster parents” at Slimbridge - wardens that dress up in large fabric costumes that cover them head to toe, with a model crane head on one hand used to feed the chicks, so that the chicks don’t become familiar with humans. These lookalike cranes have to teach the chicks from birth as if they are their parents - including showing them how to feed, and how to defend themselves from potential predators. Last year, a milestone was reached in the Great Crane Project; for the first time in this part of the world in centuries, baby cranes were hatched in Slimbridge - and survived!

Slimbridge is a symbol of natural beauty, unrestrained wildlife, and childhood joy; I’m sure I’ll be visiting again soon.

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• Slimbridge Wetland Centre, GL2 7BT, 01453 891900; www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/slimbridge

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