Wicken Fen

General Description

The ancient fen at Wicken has been a Nature Reserve since 1899. It is in the ownership of National Trust. There is 255 ha of ‘original’ peat (a SAC), at the heart of a project area, started in 1999, aimed at creating a 5300 ha reserve stretching to the city boundary of Cambridge.

The timescale will be a period of 100 years. This offers sufficient flexibility for changes in nature protection priorities, in land-use practices or the demand of recreation, without compromising the main project objectives. The objective is not to ‘restore’, but to create a landscape of value.

The water is carried in a series of high embanked channels (lodes), above the land surface, and is pumped through these out to the Wash.

Peat loss was about 4m in 300 yearrs at Wicken. Water table measures approx. 6.5 – 7m below ground surface. Even in the ancient fen, the water table is now 1m below ground surface – it used to be only 30cm below. Water from the nearby Wicken Lode used to overtop onto the fen – now this no longer happens. It has to be pumped on. The peat is chronically dry and unstructured.

So far 500 ha of new habitat has been created from farmland. Techniques include manipulating hydrology, allowing natural re-vegetation and grazing. There are no targets. We saw Adventurers’ Fen – drains blocked in 1953!; Bakers Fen – last farmed in 1996; Harrisons Farm, farmed until 2004 and Burwell Fen, farmed until 2012. The new habitats are wet grassland, very luscious and productive grass, rush pastures, pools, reedbeds, scrub and temporary thistles.

The problems, the management has to deal with, are:

The project was funded from a Leonardo da Vinci grant.