Great Fen

General Description

The Great Fen Project is managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire, the Environment Agency and other partners. The project is enhancing the condition of two original fenland Nature Reserves, Woodlwalton Fen and Holme Fen, and connecting them with a new 3700 ha wetland reserve.

The Great Fen Project priorities in particular, are the rduction of greenhouse gases, thee regulation of water balance in the region: mitigation of summer drought and winter flooding, in summer by using water stored in winter and the creation of habitats which will enhance adaptation and resilience of the species against the impact of climate change. The project aims for a step-by-step transformation from arable land into wetland to link the existing fen NNRs. The methodology is to re-seed with grass and then cut for hay to reduce fertility, then graze, and then bring the water levels up.

To date 866 ha is under restoration, and the NNRs total 474 ha. There are existing tenant farmers but by 2013 41% of the area should be under restoration management. The site sits at the edge of the fen basin, drained very efficiently in the 19th century with steam pumps, used for the drainage fo Whittlesea Mere, the site of which is within the project area. Peat depths range from >4 m to a few cm. 2 cm per annum is lost.

There is a target set of National Vegetation Classification communities (3% open water; 18% S4, etc.).

Water Storage

A flood storage scheme was initiated on Woodwalton Fen in the 1970s. It has had undesirable results. Eutrophic silt has accumulated, and the flows in the ditches (themselves Ramsar and SAC features) has slowed down. They were cleaned every 10 – 12 yrs; now it is every 2 – 5.

There may be new deepening of flood storage areas, in order to provide water for ecological use. There is the problem of holding eutrophic water on the land – if this is a net benefit to society, the project will do this (even at the expense of biodiversity). It may unlock funding in the future.

The project was funded from a Leonardo da Vinci grant.