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Topping out ceremony for new swift tower marks major milestone for Walthamstow Wetlands

A topping out ceremony held on 28 April celebrated the newly built swift tower at the Walthamstow Wetlands. This marks a significant milestone in the development of one of the largest urban wetland nature reserves in Europe.

The £8.7million project will open Thames Water’s Walthamstow Reservoirs to the public, providing free access to the 211 hectare Wetlands for residents and visitors to enjoy. This has been possible thanks to a £4.47million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, in addition to £3.7million contributed by partners.

Waltham Forest Council lead the project in partnership with Thames Water, who own and manage the site, and London Wildlife Trust, who will deliver the operational phase through an extensive programme of learning and community engagement, including conservation and site volunteering. The Walthamstow Wetlands will open to the public in autumn 2017.

A topping out ceremony celebrates a new structure reaching its maximum height. At the Walthamstow Wetlands, this is the roof of the new swift tower built on the locally listed Victorian Engine House – one of two historic buildings being renovated on the site.

The Engine House, built in 1894, will transform into a visitor centre with a café, exhibition and events space, education room, and viewing terrace. The swift tower replaces the original industrial chimney demolished in the 1950s. The new 24-metre Swift Tower includes 54 specially installed swift nest boxes to attract urban swifts. The interior also includes a snug roost for bats.

A viewing platform is under construction in the Grade II listed Coppermill Tower, offering some stunning views over the reservoirs and across London.

Cllr Clare Coghill, Cabinet Member for Economic Growth and High Streets said: “The topping out ceremony is an important milestone in the development of the Walthamstow Wetlands, and I am pleased that we were able to mark it with some of the people who are working so hard to deliver the project. The excitement is building now and we are looking forward to opening up the Wetlands so that everyone can enjoy the stunning wildlife and industrial heritage that exists on the site.”

Ten separate reservoirs make up the Walthamstow Wetlands. The site will con
tinue to be operational for Thames Water, supplying 500 million litres of water daily to around 1.5 million people across North East London.

Richard Aylard, Director of External Affairs and Sustainability at Thames Water said: “It’s exciting that we’re going to be able to share such a wonderful space with the public, while still using it to supply water to so many people across north London. With the developments to the engine house and the tower, the transformation is really taking shape and it’s great to see the project progressing so well.”

Gordon Scorer, Chief Executive of London Wildlife Trust said: “It’s fantastic to see the new swift tower rising some 24m into the sky, providing multi-storey accommodation for the swifts that migrate here every year from Africa. These amazing birds can spend up to 10 months on the wing, never touching ground while feeding on insects, mating and even sleeping in the air. Numbers have been declining dramatically, so it’s really important for us to provide a safe place for them to nest and raise their young when they reach the Wetlands – and the Swift Tower should do the job nicely.”

Walthamstow Wetlands is highly important for biodiversity, and in particular a wide range of bird life
. Because of its bird populations, Walthamstow Wetlands is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), RAMSAR, and Special Protection Area (SPA) of local, national and international importance.

The Wetlands are home to lots of wildlife including dragonflies, nocturnal bats and peregrine falcons – the fastest bird on earth, capable of reaching speeds of 200mph.

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