new welney sign

The Welney Website


WWT Welney Visitor Centre

new welney sign


The sections below were written and posted in July 2006 and shown in their original style and format.

Changes at the Centre since, particularly of personnel, are not recorded.

 wwt front door
This page of the Welney Community Website is about the new Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) visitor centre which opened its doors to the public on 29th April 2006 after a months closure for staff familiarisation & training.overview of the centre & reserve, and a link to the WWT's official site where you can read the PR blurb.

In mid April 2006 the webmaster posted some personal views (both pictorial and comment) of the outside of the new centre.

In this July 2006 update, the webmaster, Peter Cox, has taken his camera and notebook inside.

  wwt welcome sign

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust was founded in 1970 by Peter (later, Sir Peter) Scott, son of Captain Scott of Antarctic fame, and Kathleen Scott the sculptress. Sir Peter was a conservationist, painter, writer, sportsman and a naval officer during WW2.

Welney was the WWT's first reserve, and is now one of nine managed by the Trust. The reserve is in (on, if you prefer) the 'Ouse Washes' which were created in the 17th century by the Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden when he was hired by the 4th Earl of Bedford to construct a huge drainage and flood prevention scheme here in the flat fenlands of East Anglia.

The reserve, a mile or so north east of Welney village, has been the winter home of thousands of swans and ducks from northern Europe and the Arctic for more than 35 years. Over 8,000 Bewick's and Whooper swans now over-winter here, together with thousands of Wigeon, Lapwing, Mallard, Pintail, Pochard, Teal, and Plover ducks, and hundreds of others. The regular floodlit evening feeding is a popular and unforgettable sight.

The old and rather basic visitor centre just outside the Washes has been replaced with a super new £3.5 million building which opened on 24th April 2006. Entry to the building with its interactive display areas, cafe and shop is free but there is a small charge for admittance to the reserve which is now accessed via a new bridge direct from the visitor centre.

Coinciding with the new building has been a number of personnel changes. After more than seven years at Welney, Darrell Stevens, who rose through the ranks to become Centre Manager, has gone off to manage a rare habitat in Brecklands for the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. He is replaced by Veronica Morris to manage the new visitor centre, and Leigh Marshall to manage the Washes Reserve. Marsh warden & stock manager John Kemp has semi-retired to the island of South Uist off the west coast of Scotland, and senior reserve warden Jon Dale has moved with his wife to the Seychelles to be a Wetland Reserve Manager.

John Smith is the new Conservation Warden and Graham Webb is the new stockman and has brought with him his own flock of pedigree sheep. Debbie McKenzie, the previous Learning Manager, has gone to the Wildlife Trust and is replaced by Sarah Graves. Among other staff are Susan Lowe, the Marketing Manager, and Sarah Markham who has joined to assist the centre manager.

There is a very active "Friends of WWT - Welney" a volunteer group who raise funds and help out in the reserve or centre. They meet at 7.30 pm on the second Tuesday every month at the Centre with talks, slide shows. Annual membership is £5, and admission to evening meetings is £1.50 for members or £2.50 for non-members. The visitor centre provides excellent facilities for meetings - free of charge for local voluntary community groups.

 You can check opening times, and see the events diary and reserve admittance charges on the WWT official site where you will also find the technical details of the new building. But to see what it looks like, you will have to pay a visit, or take the guided tour below.
wwt centre and boardwalk   This photo and the next two were taken by the webmaster a few days before the centre re-opened.

On the left, a view from the car park. The two storey timber clad building is said to be of innovative construction with many energy saving and environmental features.

A boardwalk leading to the building's entrance is built over a pond, not just any old pond, but a "sustainable urban drainage system". Apparently that's a scheme to prevent rain draining straight into rivers. Yes, that's right an urban scheme here in the fen countryside and where the land is below the rivers and water has to be pumped up into them.

Poking out of the left of the building is a single span bridge of 117 metres, or 383 feet to those who still prefer good old English measurements, that takes visitors across the road and river to the observatory and reserve.
A view from the other end. I'm sure that whatever its "green" credentials, some will think this just looks like a big garden shed with something that's fallen into or onto it.

Others may feel that an industrial style timber barn fits well into the bleak fen vista

I'll bring you some new photos next year when the landscaping has matured and the reed-beds under the board walk have grown and are teeming with wild-life.

And shortly I'll post some interior views of the displays which I believe will be a lot more exciting that the outside ones.
rear of wwt centre
WWT signboard One of the information boards in the car park.

This one describes the solar powered entrance signs, and the environmental benefits gained including reduced carbon dioxide emissions.
The following photos were taken by the webmaster during a heat-wave in July, and the comments are his personal views except where noted.

This curved boardwalk takes visitors from the car park (on right) to the visitor centre across a pond.

Compare this with the view in April above. What a difference in just three months - and during a drought and heat-wave, too.

I look forward to seeing this again after a few months of more normal English weather.
boardwalk and pond
WWT parking Parking is plentiful and free.
This view, taken from the centre, shows the disabled parking bays. It's a mystery to me why it was decided to plant shrubbery that blocks access from that area to the boardwalk leading to the centre entrance. Anyone parking here will have to detour away from the building, into the entrance roadway, and then back on the other side of the shrubs.

I think the management need to tackle this absurdity.

My advice to disabled people is to avoid the car-park altogether and park in the bay along the front of building. Ignore the "no parking" sign, I'm sure the friendly staff will not ask you to move.

Inside, the building is clean and modern, and has some good displays to interest all ages.

From the spacious ground floor reception area, a brick arch leads to the "Fenland Worlds". First is a darkened room where this old wildfowling punt and punt-gun are displayed in front of an enormous mock-up of an eel trap, known as a 'hive'. (I understand the gun has been restored and was once owned by Josh Scott, the first manager of Welney WWT, and loaned to the WWT by his grandson, Paul.)

There are photo montages of life in the fens, and you can hear and watch recordings of Fenland legends of the past such as Ernie James describing their lives.

But the building on the whole is, to me, an enigma. The design is a rather odd. I am not referring to the technical aspects, which are said to be very eco-friendly and which I am not qualified to judge. It's the strange layout, the waste of space, and wasted opportunities. It's like a jig saw puzzle with pieces that someone's forced together even though they should be somewhere else.
fenland past
Pond room
A door off of the darkened room above takes you into the "pond room". In this light and airy room the walls and ceiling have been painted and adorned by artist Helen Shackleton and her team to give visitors a pond-dwellers view, looking up at the undersides of lily pads. Huge models of aquatic creatures hang all around, and the head of a gull bursts into the room, sorry, pond, with a fish in its beak.

But it is spoilt, for me, by French windows at one end and four horrendous white doors. Not just the colour, or lack of decoration, but that staff suddenly burst into the room from one door and disappear out through another, like silent extras on a set from a Whitehall Theatre farce.
Pond room 2
The upper level is reached by lift or stairs, leading first into the gift shop area, then via a long corridor past the toilets, to the café, and finally the access to the bridge which takes WWT members or visitors who have paid the entrance fee, over the road and raised river bank, into the reserve. But be wary. Whilst you are strolling along the corridor, admiring the framed photographs and paintings on the walls, or studying the life sized flying swans above you, you may inadvertently bang into the door of the disabled toilet which blocks almost half the corridor when open. Embarrassing and possibly dangerous to both parties.

I suppose regular visitors will, inevitably, make comparisons with the old centre. Personally, I liked the compactness of the old building. The café area was a bit cramped, but it encouraged chatting to strangers, and you could view the goodies on sale in the shop as you enjoyed a snack or drink. And during wet weather, people coming off the reserve could divest themselves of muddy footwear and wet clothes into their vehicles in the car park before going into the centre.

 Now, shop and cafe are separated, and people coming off the reserve will it seems have to trudge in boots and anoraks through the café, along that corridor, through the shop, down into the reception area. Or will they be able to avoid this and exit by the "after hours" back door? I'll be interested to see later in the year how much mud is deposited on those nice shiny wooden floors.
I think staff had hoped the shop would be larger than before with a wider range of goods. In fact it is smaller, and I sensed some disappointment that they actually have a reduced range. The café though is so huge that patrons tend to sit in isolated groups.

Canteen menu
If you're hungry, it's chips with both main courses, or just chips on their own.

A comment from one regular was:

"In the old café they always served baked potatoes. Maybe at present large potatoes are hard to come by, but I am sure they could boil up a few new ones. They used to have a special baked potato oven. Just goes to prove that change for changes sake does not always work..........."
Canteen servery

A sign proclaims that all cooking is done on site, but you can't see or chat to the cooks as you could before [in the Widgeon Tea Room at the old centre] because the kitchen is hidden away behind this gleaming steel counter.

We visited mid-morning, so contented ourselves with coffee and cake rather than lunch. The coffees were good, the chocolate cake was OK, not as moist as I would have liked, but the sponge was dry. Very, very dry. It was during a heat-wave, so we'll try again when it's cooler and report again.
Cafe seting

This is just part of the very spacious dining area with its modern furniture and views across the rear pond and fen landscape (see bottom of page).

The chairs were very comfortable, but for those wanting to really relax, there is a separate area of soft seating.
Its a paradox that the old centre had furniture made from pine, a sustainable commodity, yet here in this new "eco-friendly" wooden building much of the furniture & fittings are of metal and plastic.
Hanging models of swans

I loved these life-sized models of Whooper swans suspended above the corridor and cafe. There's five in all (two are out of picture). They represent an actual family that return here year after year, as described on the poster on the right.
Swan Information board

Who's who, or which is which?

You'll have to visit to work that out!
This site will bring more news of the centre during the autumn and also features on some of the people involved in it over the years who have also contributed to life in the Welney community, from Josh Scott to John Dale and many, many others in between. pond seen from cafe window Please don't be put off by any of the less flattering remarks above, come and see for yourselves, there's lots of good things to see and enjoy.

Not to mention the attractions over on the reserve!
Acknowledgements & Sources:
Text & photos: Peter Cox.

Site designed and maintained by the Welney Webmaster, Peter Cox.
November 2012.
I'm sorry that other committments (including topics on this site) prevented the update promised above.

I have however visited several times since (including for a Chistmas lunch) hoping I would be less disappointed with the shop and café than on my first visit. Sadly, I still find the shop layout unattractive and the stock limited and dull, and the cafe still has little charm and reminds me of a utilitarian factory canteen.

The disabled parking has not been improved and the door to the disabled toilet still open OUTwards into the corridor.

But judge for yourself.
back to top of page Original page created April 2006. Re-formatted Nov 2012 any comments?  please e-mail