Case study: Waltham Forest awareness campaign bodes well for Walthamstow Wetlands

Last October, Europe's largest urban wetland nature reserve opened with a target of attracting more than a quarter of million visitors in its first year - it is already at 100,000.

A chiffchaff at Walthamstow Wetlands, which is well on target to attract a quarter of a million visitors in year one
A chiffchaff at Walthamstow Wetlands, which is well on target to attract a quarter of a million visitors in year one
There is an interesting story behind the site, which has been mostly inaccessible to the public for 150 years but is now free to enter. 

It remains in use by Thames Water, supplying 3.5 million people, but has been transformed into a working visitor attraction through the restoration of heritage buildings such as the Engine House. 

Communicating this change was the job of the team at Waltham Forest, the London borough council that encompasses the wetlands and gathered the funding for the project. 

Lindsay Coulson, director of comms and communities for the borough, said the target audiences ranged from local residents – more than 300,000 people live within 4km of the site – to much more dispersed groups of people looking for tranquillity in London, as well as birders, anglers and nature enthusiasts. 

Its PR campaign secured coverage from media in the capital, including BBC London, ITV London, the London Evening Standard and Time Out, and from national media including The Guardian and Metro. The council also engaged agency 8hwe to help sell in the story. 

Messaging was also boosted by the council’s partners on the wetlands project – Thames Water, which owns the land, and the London Wildlife Trust charity, which was responsible for delivering the conservation features. 

Locals were reached with outdoor advertising across the borough and their awareness of the opening date, 22 October, was raised by a social media countdown. 

The opening weekend pulled in 5,000 visitors and three months later numbers have hit 100,000. 
With spring and summer yet to come, Walthamstow Wetlands is well on track to beat its first-year target of 250,000 visitors. 

The unique nature of the site necessitates more complex messages, such as highlighting its dual role as nature reserve and working reservoir, and ensuring everyone enjoys it responsibly with the slogan ‘Keep It Special, Keep It Safe’. 

The team has also had to segment its audience to ensure it reaches people with a specialist interest such as birders, anglers and international visitors. 

"A series of different events, including wildlife photography workshops, will be designed to encourage those harder-to-reach audiences," Coulson said.

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