Walthamstow Wetlands

In 2014 Waltham Forest Council announced the success of their £4.4million Stage 2 Heritage Lottery Funding bid to develop the reservoirs into ‘Walthamstow Wetlands’.

  The project had got Stage 1 approval when they were granted funding of £288k. This latest successful bid apparently brought the total funding to £6.5million, with this Heritage Lottery Funding matched by the other partners in the scheme, including Thames Water, the Environment Agency, Natural England, the Greater London Authority, the boroughs of Hackney & Haringey, Lea Valley Regional Park Authority and English Heritage. 

  The club also took part in the consultation process, run by the London Wildlife Trust (LWT), which aimed to get the views of all reservoir users. This consisted of an initial meeting with the club committee in December 2012, at which we had an opportunity to voice our concerns, which the LWT staff took due note of, along with video recordings. This was followed by a walk-round in the spring of 2013, where we were able to point out any practical problems with increased visitor numbers round the reservoirs.

  At these meetings, it was admitted that the previous proposals (from 2010) had been handled badly. While the feasibility study had estimated an increase in visitors to 100,000 a year, it also factored in a decrease in income from angling “as a result of the disturbance caused by increased numbers of visitors”. Although these documents were still on the Waltham Forest Council website, they were admitted to be out of date.

  In May 2014 the Stage D Design & Access Statement appeared on the Waltham Forest site. As this contained details of the architectural and landscape proposals which were submitted as part of the planning application for the project, and as supporting documents for this successful Heritage Lottery Fund Stage 2 submission, it’s useful to take a closer look at what they were proposing.


It is gratifying that this document declares that its “landscape and architectural designs have been developed in such a way that...ensures a workable fit with...the needs of existing users of the site, including anglers and bird watchers”. It claims that “The interface between the existing site users ranging from existing wildlife to the existing fishery, has been looked at in detail through the project with a series of creative interfaces developed to protect the existing user’s enjoyment.”

  It also declares that it is important that “the project celebrates the heritage of fishing in the Lee Valley and on this site in particular. Fishing is a popular recreation on the site today with an active coarse & fly fishing community as well as an Angling Academy located at the existing Forest Road Entrance”. It continues “The heritage of fishing in the Lee Valley is an important part of local history. On this site fishing has been a historic recreation, for example six fisheries in Walthamstow were listed in the Doomsday book whilst in 1653 the River Lea next to the Ferry Boat Inn was described in the Compleat Angler. The reservoir site has a long history of use for fishing by the local population with the Walthamstow Fishery managing both coarse and fly-fishing on site today. The majority of the existing recreational visitors to the site are anglers making fishing the key component of the site’s recreational heritage, which should be celebrated within the project”. 

  As the diagram on the right tries to make clear, it appears they will be attempting to reduce the impact of increased visitor numbers on anglers (and birdwatchers) by

Pedestrians and cyclists will be allowed to access the site through 4 entrances (1) Coppermill Lane (2) Forest Road South (3) Forest Road North, and (4) Lockwood Way. Although a hard path will run along this ‘primary route’, it appears that other paths will be classed as ‘secondary routes’ to be accessible on a seasonable basis through a series of ‘habitat gates’. These include paths round the West Warwick, the East Warwick, Nos 1, 2 & 3 and the West bank of Nos 4 and 5. Note: The other banks of Nos 4 and 5 are not included in this route system and are classed as ‘guided access only’ which means that these reservoirs should not see as much visitor traffic as the others. The more naturalised ‘in ground’ Nos 1, 2, 3 and the Low Maynard Reservoirs are seen as ‘green core’ for visitors with the Marine Engine House and its nearby outdoor educational space as the key focus for ‘less quiet’ activities, preserving the tranquil nature of the rest of the site.

restricting visitors to a main ‘primary route’, consisting of a concrete footpath and cycleway, which runs from an entrance in the Coppermill Lane, between the East Warwick and No1, past a redeveloped Marine Engine House, across the Forest Road, and out at the top of the High Maynard.

  Access to other ‘secondary routes’ will be controlled on a seasonal basis by a number of ‘habitat gates’. While the East Warwick and the West banks of Nos 4 & 5 are seen as part of these ‘secondary routes’ where care will have to be taken with back-casting (presumably there will be additional signage warning of this, as at other fisheries), the rest of Nos  4 & 5 are classed as ‘guided access only’ and should see much less visitor traffic.

Main Entrance  & Marine Engine House

The main entrance will still be in Forest Road but to the right of the present Signing-In Room. Vehicles will drive straight into a 72-space car park, with pedestrians using a boardwalk entrance to the side of this. The Marine Engine House (see below), by the bridge over the Coppermill Stream, will be redeveloped to include a Reception/Shop, a Cafe, Kitchen, Exhibition, Learning Space and two Terraces, one outdoors at ground level, and another on the first floor with views over the reservoirs. The plans show a large chimney as an additional ‘Swift Tower’ feature, an ‘aspirational’ extra part of the Heritage Lottery Fund project.

Coppermill & Temporary

Viewing Tower

In addition, the tower in the Coppermill building will be converted into a high level Viewing Platform reached from the ground floor by a steel staircase. (The rest of the building will continue to be used by Thames Water as normal.)  

  This steel staircase will initially feature in a temporary Viewing Tower (below) which will be sited on the North side of Forest Road, next to the High Maynard reservoir, and give elevated views of the reservoirs to the North and South of the road. It is designed to be in place for approximately two years, and as well as carrying information about the Walthamstow Wetlands project, will serve as a signpost for, and a preview of the developments on the site.

Concerns & Further Questions

It is proposed to remove the permit system for bird watchers and allow, in the words of the London Wildlife Trust, ‘free and open access to all, which will ensure the site immediately becomes available to the wider community to enjoy regardless of economic status’.

   (While the present day permit charge of £1 for bird watchers is not exactly a cost barrier, the proposed car parking charges rather undermine this ‘free’ claim. Naturally, the club will be pressing that, for fishermen, these car parking charges will be covered in their normal fishing ticket fees, as happens at most other reservoirs, like Bewl, Grafham, Rutland, Chew etc.)

   We hope the public will appreciate what they’re being given, because people don’t always value what they don’t have to pay for. We also hope an adequate security budget has been included in the staffing costs. With free access, it will be necessary to prevent activities like swimming, which used to be a problem in the summer months.   

  We also hope the ‘habitat gates’, the proposed way of guiding access for visitors, will be effective. It’s not clear from the plans whether other measures, like fencing, are envisaged. Just because there’s a sign telling people not to go somewhere doesn’t mean they won’t go there. 

  These are just some of the concerns the club will be voicing to Thames Water at our regular meetings with Manager Will Barnard, and also with representatives from the London Wildlife Trust who ran the consultation process, and will be operating Walthamstow Wetlands activities. The development of the Marine Engine House is long overdue and should offer impressive facilities for holding events like a Greys Bank Final and other national competitions. Something that Walthamstow, in comparison with venues like Farmoor, Bewl, Grafham and Rutland, has always been lacking.