Fenlands

General Description

To investigate methods of peatland restoration in the lowland fens was the main issue of the study visit that took place at Wicken Fen, Great Fen and Lakenheath Fen, East Anglia, England, from 22nd to Thursday 24th May 2012. The group discussed: peat restoration from farmland, peat restoration at different stages (1 – 15 yrs), Management of peatland by cutting or grazing, water table control and management and also monitoring peatlands.

The English Fens

The Fens are a low-lying area of peat occupying about 3,900 km2 in eastern England. Like similar areas in the Netherlands, they originally consisted of extensive wetlands which have been drained over the past 300 years and are now protected from floods by dikes and pumps. As a result of drainage and the subsequent shrinkage of the peat, many parts of the Fens now lie below mean sea level. Holme Fen is now the lowest land point in the United Kingdom, at around 2.75 metres below sea level. Due to the drainage system, the Fenland is now a major arable farming area for cereals and vegetables, and has around half the ‘Grade 1’ agricultural land in England.

There are a few precious relicts of the original fenland left. These are sites of national or international nature conservation importance. Most critically, many are being used now as a focus for restoring the remaining thin peat back to wetland. Our Study Visit will concentrate on 3 areas in the southern part of Fenland where there are very extensive restoration projects.

The Impacts

The impacts of climate change on all sites visited are eclipsed by the impacts of drainage and eutrophication from agriculture, but these impacts will be exacerbated by climate change which will add more stress: water shortage, further degradation and loss of peat, eutrophication, species surviving in island sites with limited opportunity for interchange; prolonged summer drought, higher temperatures and possibly more frequent and prolonged winter flooding.
All wetland species /habitats are susceptible to these pressures.

There is no ‘reference condition’ for restoring degraded fenland peat, so it is not clear what to expect.

The project was funded from a Leonardo da Vinci grant.