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Welsh Harp: a special wetland for nature and people in north-west London

credit Mathew Frithcredit Mathew Frith

Welsh Harp, also known as Brent Reservoir, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) notified for its breeding pairs of great crested grebe, overwintering waterfowl, and marginal vegetation.

The Welsh Harp area is an important wildlife and amenity site lying between Hendon and Wembley in north-west London. The 105-hectare nature reserve hosts a diverse range of habitats, including open water, marsh, reedbeds, woodland and meadows, bordered by a complex of playing fields, allotments and other greenspaces.

In partnership with Barratt Metropolitan, Barnet Council, and other stakeholders, London Wildlife Trust is working to help ensure the unique nature conservation interests of the Welsh Harp are protected, enhanced and promoted as part of the regeneration of West Hendon. We organise activities to encourage local people’s involvement in the site and advise partners on the development to ensure that biodiversity benefits accrue to this important – but under-appreciated – wildlife site.

What to see

The site straddles the boundary of the London boroughs of Barnet and Brent, and the respective local authorities are owners of most of the greenspaces of the site, alongside the Canal & River Trust which owns the reservoir and its shoreline.

Great crested grebe (credit Matthew Rich)

In spring great crested grebe can be seen caring for their eggs, laid in nests constructed in the shallows of the reservoir. The birds perform a beautiful and elaborate courtship dance before starting nest building and mating.

Other frequent visitors are common tern, which hover gracefully over the reservoir before plunging down to snatch small fish from the water. Cormorants and grey heron are also plentiful, diving deep for fish and stealthily stalking the shallows for anything else they can catch.

In the warmer months, dragonflies and damselflies can be seen darting along the freshwater edges. In the evenings a variety of bat species can be detected such as common pipistrelle and daubentons. 

The bird hides on the eastern marsh provide a front row seat for wildlife watching, framed by the expanse of the reservoir, with the white arch of Wembley Stadium in the distance. The site is a popular for people to visit, especially for dog-walking, strolling, picnics, and boating activities.

What we're doing

The Trust contributed to managing the Welsh Harp in the 1980s and has continued to be represented on the Welsh Harp Joint Consultative Committee ever since. As the West Hendon regeneration scheme overlooking the reservoir began to take shape in 2016 the Trust, working with key agencies, Natural England and the Environment Agency, secured funding for the delivery of conservation volunteering and wildlife-friendly activities, in an agreement between Barnet Council and the developers, Barratt Homes and Metropolitan Housing.

Welsh Harp volunteering (credit Catherine Cullen)

Since then the Trust has forged relationships with the local community through regular volunteering sessions and family-friendly events. Conservation work has been undertaken to clear scrub from the meadows and reedbeds, working alongside volunteers of the Welsh Harp Conservation Group. Regular litter picks are hosted in collaboration with the Friends of the Welsh Harp. Species surveys have been supported by the Water for Wildlife team. Nature orientated walks and talks are also hosted on site. 

Scope for longer-term environmental improvements to the Welsh Harp, and addressing key management issues have also been identified, upon which the Trust aim to be working closely with Barnet Council, Barratt Metropolitan and other key partners.

How to get involved

Volunteering on site is a fun and friendly way to get outdoors and enjoy what the Welsh Harp has to offer. The Trust hosts regular volunteer days covering a range of activities, from habitat management such as reedbed maintenance, to litter picks, wildlife walks, species surveys, and birdwatching from boats.

For more information and to get involved, please contact Catherine Cullen on ccullen@wildlondon.org.uk. For upcoming events at Welsh Harp check our events page.

Barnet CouncilBarratt Homes