A wetland wonderland

Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust explains why Amwell Nature Reserve is great for wildlife and people

SINCE Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust started working with its partners at Amwell Nature Reserve near Stanstead Abbots more than ten years ago, the focus has very much been on the nature reserve's tremendous potential, both as a refuge for a huge variety of wildlife and a great place to see it.Now, thanks to support from funders and partners, HMWT is investing an amazing �450,000 in the enhancement of this 43-hectare wetland wonderland to give everyone better opportunities to see Amwell NR's wildlife and to learn more about it. Some major improvements are in progress, including an enhanced viewpoint, two new hides with great views over the lakes, screened walkways, a dragonfly trail - giving access to new parts of the site - surfaced footpaths, rest points and a car park. New signs and interpretation panels will also guide visitors around the nature reserve.Amwell NR is a very special place. Sited as it is within the Lee Valley Regional Park, it forms part of the Lee Valley Special Protection Area and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The nature reserve attracts thousands of visitors throughout the year.At Amwell there is always the promise of a view of a bittern in winter or the chance that you might spot a water vole or glimpse an otter - quite apart from the winter spectacle of nationally significant numbers of gadwall, shoveler and smew and the excitement of seeing visiting and migrating birds like the osprey, marsh harrier or various waders. In summer all 19 species of dragonfly found in Hertfordshire can be seen here too. Reedbeds, open water, ponds, ditches, meadows, grassland and woodland combine to make an excellent place to see wildlife of all sorts. HMWT wants to entice even more people to discover what treats Amwell has to offer and to bring visitors closer to the wildlife that is there. Lots of thought has been given to simple access improvements as well as new facilities that will make the site more accessible to all.On arrival at Amwell Lane - often the starting place for any visit to the reserve - a new car park will provide a safe and convenient place for unloading from cars, getting children into wellies or meeting up with others before starting out. Although there is a height barrier at the entrance, organised groups with minibuses will still be able to either drop visitors off or, by prior arrangement with the Trust, enter the car park. After a brief walk you reach the viewpoint. Visitors previously familiar with the site will notice a new 'split-level' layout to enable more people, including wheelchair users, to enjoy the spectacular views over Great Hardmead Lake. From the Gladwin hide - a new installation to the right of the viewpoint as you face Great Hardmead Lake - you'll get fantastic views across the lake and the main island at its southern end. To the left of the viewpoint, the James hide, formerly the Water Rail hide, is an ideal place to look across the reedbed on one side - look out for a skulking bittern in winter - and to study at close hand birds flocking to the bird feeders on the other. Further on, a screened and fenced walkway leads to the White hide, situated in the area currently visible from the viewpoint but not previously accessible to visitors. This new, raised hide gives wonderful panoramic views across the lake from three sides, accommodates up to 20 people, and has a ramp rather than steps - meaning more people will be able to enjoy using it.During the winter months, the Hollycross Lake area provides a vital sanctuary for over wintering birds and for this reason is closed to visitors. However, in summer, outside this crucial period for birds, this same area is alive with dragonflies and damselflies, so a dragonfly trail will be open here from May to September to give excellent opportunities to view these spectacular insects. A boardwalk and bridges over open water will make it possible to see many different species of dragonflies making the most of the excellent mixed wetland conditions for them at Holycross Lake. This is also the area where orchids are thriving, and there is information signage to highlight this seasonal feature. On the bridge over the old River Lee, an otter view point has been created. Whilst visitors may not see an otter during daylight, they can learn a little more about this shy animal and appreciate the type of habitat an otter relies on. Because of the site's suitability for otters - previously extinct in the county - it was not far from this point at Amwell that six otters were released in Hertfordshire in 1991. Elsewhere seating, gates, improved pathways and signposting will combine to make Amwell Nature Reserve even more of a hit, not just with wildlife but with people too.As is often the way with site improvements, things can look a little sparse at first, but now that spring is almost upon us, it won't be long before nature gets on with the job of 're-greening' the work areas. Throughout the works, HMWT is monitoring the nature reserve, its wildlife and visitor use to ensure that Amwell NR's fantastic nature conservation value is protected and, whilst making it great for people, ensuring that this wetland jewel is best known for its wildlife.If you've never been to Amwell, there's never been a better time to come and see for yourself. Whether you're on a voyage of discovery, or the nature reserve is an old favourite, HMWT looks forward to seeing you there.How to get there:Nearest town Stanstead Abbotts OS map reference TL376127The nature reserve is near to both the A414 and A10, and accessed via Amwell Lane. From Stanstead Abbotts, turn off the B181 into Amwell Lane. From Ware (A1170 heading south), turn left into Lower Road and then left into Amwell Lane after approx 1 mile. Reserve car park is mile along lane. 10 minute walk from St Margaret's rail station (Stanstead Abbotts). Buses stop here from Hoddesdon and Ware. The nature reserve can also be reached on foot/cycle via the River Lee Navigation towpath.