Wicken Fen celebrates its 100-year Big Vision
The first ever property owned by the National Trust celebrated its anniversary with a weekend of wildlife fun.
Wicken Fen held its Big Vision weekend to mark the anniversary and to recognise 20 years of work that has been done to make it a rich oasis of wildlife.
It started as just a two-acre patch of fenland in 1899 but has grown to become the area of England that has more species of plants and wildlife then anywhere in the UK, spanning almost 2000 acres.
As a result, it has been officially registered as the most species-rich area of the country] – with more than 9,300 recorded as living in this unique landscape.
Martin Lester, countryside manager at the National Trust says: “Despite our success at Wicken, it still makes up less than one percent of the original fenland habitat that used to dominate East Anglia back in the 17th century.
“The original fenland habitat was subject to centuries of draining to create farmland. It takes decades for true fen habitat to develop, when starting from scratch, but there is huge wildlife value to the habitat, particularly in light of the warming climate.”
The Big Vision of Wicken Fen is a 100-year plan that will rewild the fenland landscape on a plot that reaches all the way to Cambridge. If successful, this project could expand the fenland to 13,000 acres.
Highland cattle and wild konik ponies roam free on the fen. The ponies originate from Eastern Europe and are ideal for the fenland as they are resilient to all types of weather and have good immune systems.
The weekend’s celebrations included safaris, treasure hunts, boat trips, face painting, traditional willow weaving, storytelling and pond dipping.
Martin continues: “With the new land we’ve acquired, we’ve been able to create a mosaic of different habitats through progressive wetting of the land, using excess flood water from the river during the winter months. This helps to lock away as much as 80 per cent of the carbon stored in the peat, preventing its release into the atmosphere which is a known contributor to global warming.
“By introducing more than 50 hardy grazing cattle and 100 ponies, we have been able to spread seeds over the landscape as they can carry them in their hooves, manes and coat – plus deposit them in their dung - as they wander across the landscape.
“Obviously with rising land prices, growing the area of the fenland only through acquisitions is not a sustainable option – so we are also looking at partnership working.”
A list of 25 completely newly discovered species to the UK have recorded since Trust ownership, with the the latest species discovery, Silvanus recticollis, being a flat bark beetle.
Since the Big Vision project began, several other species including cranes, Norfolk hawkers and otters have returned to the landscape after an absence of several decades.
The fen is also home to 188 endangered (red listed) species including the cuckoo, great crested newt, soprano pipistrelle bat, milk parsley and the fen violet; and 483 nationally scarce (amber listed species), including the marsh pea, marsh fern, bittern, reed bunting and marsh harrier.