Inventory Site Record

Walthamstow Marshes (Waltham Forest)

Brief Description

Walthamstow Marshes, now designated a Nature Reserve, is one of the last surviving examples of natural marshland in the London area and still exhibits subtle signs of the post-glacial landscape and of the ancient Lammas lands system of management, under which the marsh was used for the common grazing of cattle, hence its historical name of Walthamstow Common Marsh. From spring to late summer the Marsh was left to grow and cut for hay according to a system of plots. Grazing ceased in 1934, but was re-introduced in 2003. Hay continued to be cut from parts of the marsh in late summer to help maintain its diversity of plants and animals. The site comprises a number of areas, including North Marsh, South Marsh and Leyton Marsh, with some areas, such as Lammas Meadow, Coppermill Fields and Bomb Crater Pond, named to recall its past history.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Walthamstow Common Marsh
Site location:
Lea Bridge Road
E10 7QL
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Public Open Land
Waltham Forest
Open to public?
Opening times:
Special conditions:
Cycle ways, car parks, visitor centre
Public transport:
Rail: Clapton then bus/walk. Bus: 22a, 55, 56, 48
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.visitleevalley.org.uk/walthamstowmarshes

Full Site Description

During the industrial revolution, the land retained its agricultural use, though increasingly hemmed in by surrounding development. As hay making and grazing reduced, the local council acquired the site with plans to develop it for recreational use but WWII and subsequent austerity halted these plans. Signs of anti-landing trenches and the impact of WWII bombing are still visible today, the latter recalled in Bomb Crater Pond, the site of a V-2 bomb that landed on 11 February 1945. In 1965, the Marsh was acquired by Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA) as part of its plans to acquire land for the new Lee Valley Regional Park. After pressure from local campaigners to protect the marshes from development, Walthamstow Marsh was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1985 and has since then been designated a nature reserve by the park authority. The reserve is actively managed by LVRPA with the aim of retaining its original grassland meadows and marshlands and increasing its value for wildlife, while providing for informal recreation. The site comprises a number of areas, including North Marsh, South Marsh and Leyton Marsh, with some such as Lammas Meadow named to recall its past history.

Old traditions have continued with the re-introduction in 2003 of grazing by cows on part of the Marshes, which assists maintain the biodiversity. Conservation grazing takes place each year between May and November and then the cattle are moved to overwinter. The woodlands that are a recent and unintentional addition to the Marshes are managed using traditional practices such as coppicing and pollarding during the winter. 

There are records of around 400 plant species and over 500 insect species including butterflies and dragonflies, with the Willow Emerald Damselfly a recent arrival that has a restricted distribution within London. Uncommon species now found on Walthamstow Marshes include the water vole, the Dotted Fanfoot and Webb’s Wainscot moths and plants such as Creeping Marshwort, Brookweed and Adder’s-tongue Fern.

Since 2018, changes have been made to the area around Ox-Bow Island in a 5-year project by LVRPA working with the Canal & River Trust and Thames 21. This work includes improvements to the habitat in and around the island and to its access, creation of new reedbeds, planting of native wildflowers, trees and shrubs, and installation of bat and bird boxes and deadwood piles for insects and reptiles. The problems of vandalism, fly tipping, anti-social behaviour and non-native invasive species are also being tackled, and a working group of local volunteers is being trained to assist in looking after the site. In December 2020, LVRPA Rangers and Lea Bridge Conservation Volunteers planted over 150 native trees and shrubs along the northern boundary of the Ice Centre car park in order to both attract more wildlife but also act as a natural screen to the car park. Other improvements include more tree planting and seeding of the soils with wild flowers, and a new land bridge and footpath improving access for visitors to the island and helping to discourage anti-social behaviour on site. The works will also feature improvements to the channel’s water quality and will include a mix of new aquatic planting along with the installation of a new reedbed north of the island. Living, floating booms will be installed at either end of the island to help prevent litter flowing into the channel from the river, helping to reduce pollution. 

Nine new interpretive panels designed to help educate and inform visitors about the environment were installed in 2020 and provide valuable insight into the wildlife, habitats, history and management of the site. A local volunteer group helps manage the site and a User Forum has been consulted on management for many years and this process is being reviewed to try and broaden community involvement. Information on opportunities for volunteering can be found by visiting the Lee Valley Park website.

Beneath the railway arches on the Marsh the pioneer Sir Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe built his famous triplane, nicknamed the ‘Yellow Terror’, in which he flew 900 feet across the Marsh on 23 July 1909, the first all-British powered flight. This feat is commemorated by a plaque erected over the site of Roe’s original workshop.

There is now direct access from the Marshes to the Walthamstow Wetlands Nature Reserve (q.v.), which opened in 2017.

Sources consulted:

Lee Valley Regional Park Authority website; see 'Musings from the Marshes, The newsletter for Leyton and Walthamstow Marshes'

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ354872 (535450,187250)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
Lee Valley Regional Park Authority
Site management:
LVRPA Park Operations; The Filter Beds and Walthamstow Marshes User Forum
Listed structures:
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - SSSI
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Archaeological Priority Zone
Other LA designation:

Walthamstow Marshes

Walthamstow Marshes, December 2016. Photograph Sally Williams

Walthamstow Marshes, December 2016. Photograph Sally Williams

Click a photo to enlarge.

Please note the Inventory and its content are provided for your general information only and are subject to change. It is your responsibility to check the accuracy.