The Cotswolds stands as one of the world’s most pristine nature enclaves, providing for both people and wildlife for generations. In 1966, the Cotswolds became internationally recognized as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which formally designated this unique and precious landscape as an intrinsic aspect of the United Kingdom. Located just two hours northwest of London, the region is famous for its natural landscapes, exuberant gardens, small organic farms and grand country estates.
The Cotswolds are the ideal location for a calming retreat into nature. With trout-filled streams, beech forests and wildflower meadows, it is the largest protected area in England and Wales. The Cotswolds covers nearly 800 square miles and runs through five counties—Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire. Eighty percent of the land remains as farmland, and thoughtful stewardship of the land allows the habitat to support a diverse range of wildlife.
The Cotswolds has an outstanding history of conservation and is a haven for wildlife, especially migratory birds. In 1946, celebrated artist, ornithologist and conservationist Sir Peter Markham Scott founded the first-ever Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) in the United Kingdom. The Slimbridge Wetland Center is situated in the Cotswolds on the River Severn in Gloucestershire and has become internationally recognized for several conservation wins. Since its formation, ten additional WWT sites have been opened across the UK, all with the mission to save threatened wetland species from extinction and conserve their habitats.
Slimbridge Wetland Center: 76 years of Saving Wetland Bird Species
The Slimbridge Wetland Center spans 2,000 acres and supports 3,000 birds that represent some 200 unique species. Varied landscapes of pasture, reed bed, lagoon and salt marsh provide a luscious natural environment for these precious birds. As a research center, a quarter of Slimbridge is reserved for captive birds and breeding stock. Today, Slimbridge has the world’s largest collection of captive wildfowl (geese, ducks and swans) and maintains an excellent breeding record. The refuge supports breeding colonies of four of the six known flamingo species and has a special pavilion for exotic ducks and various small birds.
The nene, also known as the Hawaiian goose, was saved from total extinction, mainly due to Sir Scott and his vision for Slimbridge. In 1952, only 30 individuals of the Hawaiian goose remained after suffering major population declines in the 18th century. Troubled by the potential extinction of these birds, Sir Scott brought three birds from Hawaii to Slimbridge to begin the first captive breeding program for these threatened birds. Sir Scott was able to reintroduce 200 nenes back to Hawaii’s Maui Island by 1979. Today, the population is more than 2,000, marking one of the reserve’s most successful conservation wins. A visit to Slimbridge means seeing these rare birds while getting insight into the trailblazing techniques and technologies that helped recover this threatened species.
Slimbridge is a Birder’s Paradise
Some 15 million birds migrate to WWT sites across the UK every winter. The Slimbridge Wetland Center provides year-round opportunities to see rare birds from all over the world. In the summer, you can take in new life teeming across the reserve, such as kingfishers, wading birds passing through on their migration and summer warblers. In autumn, you’ll see tundra swans, green sandpipers, wigeons, golden plovers, pintails and many other wintering birds arriving at the estuary. Bird watchers and photographers will enjoy winter in Slimbridge as 30,000 wild wintering ducks, geese and swans can be found feeding and roosting on the reserve. Spring brings new arrivals like swallows, house martins and summer warblers. Listen for the songs of chiffchaffs, reeds, sedge warblers and the distinctive call of the cuckoo.
When the Slimbridge Wetland Center opened, the public was encouraged to explore the reserve. In 1953, Sir Scott hosted BBC’s first-ever natural history program, streaming live from his artist’s studio overlooking the lakes at Slimbridge. Curating experiences for people to explore and feel comfortable in nature was Sir Scott’s mission, and it remains his legacy. Today, 23 million tourists visit Slimbridge each year. WWT’s founder remains an influential force even after his passing. His legacy lives on in continued efforts to ensure that the public can witness and be part of this thriving wetland ecosystem.
The Ultimate Exploration of English Nature
Natural Habitat Adventures offers an in-depth journey across Britain’s classic countryside, including a visit to Slimbridge, dubbed the Avian Serengeti. The Cotswolds: Exploring English Nature tour provides a serene retreat into nature with more than 3,000 miles of footpaths and bridleways to explore.
The rich heritage of the Cotswolds leaves much to explore. The expansive farmland provides a harvest of high-quality local organic artisan cheese, cream, lamb, pork, trout, berries, honey, cider, ale and more. At Honeydale Farm, you’ll learn about the sustainable farming practices that local farmers pride themselves on. Explore the Cotswolds’ famous nature reserves as well as ancient hardwood forests, wildflower meadows, marshes, streams and hedgerows, home to local wildlife like foxes and badgers.
Nat Hab’s Cotswolds adventure features better-known highlights (such as Slimbridge), as well as tours of charming private properties and some of the finest gardens in the UK. Enjoy guided retreats into royal gardens at Highgrove House and estates that are off-limits to the public. This exclusive tour of English nature honors Slimbridge and the Cotswolds’ role in addressing species decline. This thriving ecosystem has stood as a testament to conservation values and practices and has influenced global efforts to protect vital landscapes and wildlife.