Our must-visit winter wildlife haven

The Nene Valley is the place to come each autumn and winter to see a wide variety of wildlife and especially over-wintering water birds.

The river Nene, with its many tributaries and wetlands, forms an internationally renowned haven for a fascinating assortment of wildlife attracted to the diverse natural habitats offered by adjacent marshes, woodlands and wet grasslands.

Year round the Nene Valley is one of the most important areas in the country for a range of wildlife that have made it their home, including otters, kingfishers and herons. Visit the area in the autumn, and you’ll find there’s even more to see and hear, as curlew, lapwing, wigeon and the gadwall duck settle in.

According to The Wildlife Trust, 20,000 waterbirds use the wetlands every year, for breeding, for their winter quarters or as vital stopping points on their long migration routes, from as far away as Arctic Russia and southern Africa.

The Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust has numerous reserves in the area which include a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Protection Area. We suggest that you begin your visit of wildlife discovery at the Trust’s Nene Wetlands Nature Reserve and Visitor Centre, which acts as a gateway to the Nene Wetlands and its five interconnected wildlife sites. It’s located on the boardwalk at Rushden Lakes Retail Park, overlooking Skewbridge Lake. Bring the family along too for an enjoyable walk on the nature trail – there’s always lots for children to engage with here, including a Discovery Area just for them. (Check out the website for school half-term activities.)

You can discover more about The Upper Nene Valley Gravel Pits Special Protected Area here https://nenevalley.net/spa/

Flying displays

If you do one thing this autumn and winter, make sure you pay a visit to Stanwick Lakes at dusk between November and January for a chance to see Starling murmurations. The birds put on this spectacular display as they fly, performing twists and turns across the sky, swooping and swirling to create breathtaking shape-shifting clouds before they head to the reedbeds for the night. It’s a memorable sight and a ‘big tick’ for many nature fans and photographers.

Waterfowl species that choose to overwinter here include Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal and Tufted Duck. They come to the Nene Valley to escape the much colder climates of Siberia and Scandinavia. Stanwick Lakes attracts large numbers of two rare species, the Golden Plover and Lapwing, which will have begun arriving on the lakes here in September and stay until March.

We recommend popping into the Visitor Centre to discover more about the seasonal feathered visitors and what to expect before you head out to explore.

For details on all of the nature reserves in the Nene Valley, head to https://nenevalley.net/see-and-do/nature/reserves/