Like many families, we love getting out and about. We try to find as many outdoor activities as we can and we especially love interacting with and learning about animals.
But if you live in the UK, our chilly, damp winters can often make you reluctant to leave the warmth of home. It can be tempting to curl up at home and hibernate until spring! However, if you know where to look, winter can sometimes surprise you.
Wrap up warm and visit the right place and a winter day out can be (almost!) as fun as a summer day.
Slimbridge Wetland Centre is ideal for a winter visit; as many as 30,000 birds migrate here for the winter providing a beautiful natural spectacle.
About Slimbridge Wetland Centre
Slimbridge is one of 9 wetland centres administered by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. The WWT is a charity set up to preserve and promote Britain’s wetlands which are a haven for wildlife, especially migratory birds. Slimbridge is located on the banks of the River Severn’s estuary, in Gloucestershire.
There’s more than just birds here. Slimbridge is also an important habitat for amphibians and you can find these in Toad Hall where there’s a wealth of information about their threatened status. Some of Britain’s endangered mammals make their home here, including otters and a beaver.
Plenty of activities are centred around families; there’s a welly boot walk, canoeing, and seasonal offerings for children. You’ll also find an educational centre which runs scheduled pre-school activities. There is, of course, the obligatory playground for the kids to monkey about in.
Bolstered by reinforcements in the form of my parents, Kids and Compass visited Slimbridge on a grey day in November. The kids immediately got stuck into the thick of things, coming face to beak with some huge swans who were patrolling by the exit from the visitor centre. Beady eyes searched us for the bags of grains that you can buy with your tickets. We paid our toll and the swans let us pass.
The reserve is set out with paths around a series of small lakes and ponds, as you’d expect at a wetland. There are separate continent areas where non-native species can be found, but of course the migratory birds are free to roam wherever they like.
The kids loved the boardwalks over the ponds – peering through railings and feeding the ducks was great fun for them. There’s a lot of open space here so they had lots of freedom to tear about which suited everyone. When we visited, Slimbridge was displaying a series of large lego animals and so we had fun trying to find them all.
For adults, there are plenty of hides for the more serious bird-spotters amongst us. If, like me, you don’t know much about ducks other than that they go quack, there are some pretty birds here other than the ubiquitous mallard.
Flamingos and other exotic creatures
Slimbridge is home to all six species of flamingo, much to the pink-loving Cub’s delight. They are dotted all about the reserve, but you’ll find most of them at the far end, at the aptly-named Flamingo Lagoon. You can get quite close here as there’s a large hide right down on the water’s edge.
Make sure you walk past the beaver’s lodge on the way – perhaps you’ll see him (we didn’t). We did get a good look at the playful otters who live here, as well as some tiny and very cute harvest mice. We also enjoyed peeking into the nearby tropical house to find some more amphibians and getting out of the chilly air.
When Bee is bigger we will definitely book a canoe tour so we can get out onto some of the waterways. If your kids are over 3 you can take them in the canoes. In the summer months a Land Rover safari takes place so we’d also probably rest our legs for a few minutes on board!
As usual we didn’t manage to see absolutely everything Slimbridge has to offer – we missed going up the observation tower at the visitor centre as the kids were getting too tired to manage the steps.
Home to native species as well as more exotic animals, Slimbridge is ideal for a family day out. And if you’re a birder, it’s heaven.
Know before you go
Slimbridge is well signposted from the M5 motorway. Just follow the brown signs from exits 13 and 14.
Buy tickets online at the WWT website for best prices.
The cafe here serves some good food with hot options and plenty for fussy little ones. There are lots of picnic areas if you’d like to bring your own food.
Bring wellies so you can join in the welly boot walk if you have young children.
Don’t forget to pre-book any seasonal activities, especially for half-term or school holiday specials. Details on the WWT website as above.
Check the timings for otter feedings, Toad Hall talks and crane talks when you arrive to make the most of your day.