I’ve been up to Wicken Fen over the weekend – a place I worked at for 7 years. Whilst I was there I was the architect of what is now known as the Wicken Fen Vision – a 100 year plan which aims to restore thousands of acres of fen between Wicken and Cambridge. You can read a detailed version of the vision here (pages 247-267). I left Wicken in 2004 just after the National Trust had acquired a farm known as Burwell Fen Farm.
Burwell Fen Farm is the area in the middle right of the picture starting at the triangular pond – this was in 2002 and you can see it is under a crop rotation. You can also see Adventurer’s Fen, Baker’s Fen and Guinea Hall. These areas were all drained and ploughed during World War Two as part of the ‘dig for victory’ campaign. They have subsequently been restored back to wetlands by the National Trust. At the top left of the picture is the Sedge Fen the 400 acre fragment of the original Fen which escaped drainage.
This is now Burwell Fen – several hundred acres of wetlands created over the past 10 years. It is one of the lowest areas in the catchment (it is below sea level – the Lode (Fen river) to the left carries water from Cambridgeshire’s chalk land to the south and feeds them into the River Cam before that flows towards the North Sea. The drained peat has shrunk and it now many metres below the original level.
There are now a 100 acres plus of open water and hundreds of acres of new reedbeds. None of this has been planted – the restoration work involves some initial works to set water levels and after that natural processes take place. Add water (opposed to removing it via pumped drainage operations i.e. farming in the Fens), give it a decade and this is the result.
Whilst standing on the Lode bank we watched 4 short-eared owls and two marsh harrier hunting over the fen. We also saw a stonechat, a species which until the vision was commenced did not breed in Cambridgeshire. In addition there were hundreds of ducks and waders on and around the open areas of water. Over the past couple of years black-necked grebes have bred here along with marsh harriers. Last year a pair of black-winged stilts attempted to breed.
It was great to go back and see Baker’s Fen – I must say I am also amazed how quickly it has happened.
A new bridge has been installed over Reach Lode to provide access for the cattle and konik ponies as well as providing access for people and cyclists (a national trail route giving access to the Fens from Cambridge). This is a piece of installation art produced by Sustrans showing an entomologist, an eel catcher and a fenland skater. Three iconic fen figures from years gone past. It was the entomologists who discovered Wicken Fen and it huge diversity of insects – particularly moths – which led Charles Rothschild to persuade the National Trust to start acquiring it in 1899.
A story of hope in an era of biodiversity gloom – don’t despair – make something happen!