Wicken Fen

Rewilding the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve to create England’s most famous fen
Credit: Wicken Fen, Justin Minns

At a glance

Location

Wicken, Cambridgeshire

Area

1,833 acres

Start date

1999

Scale

Large

Habitats

Lowland and Wetlands (including peatlands and marsh)

Key species

Hen harrier, Bittern, Cuckoo, Short eared owl and Dragonflies

Rewilding actions

Extensive grazing and Natural regeneration

Engaging people

Volunteering, Tourism and Recreation

Wicken Fen is one of Europe’s most important wetlands and supports an abundance of wildlife. The National Trust set its vision in 1999 to extend the nature reserve and restore arable land to fenland habitat for wildlife and people. It has owned parts of the site since 1899, making it the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve. 

For a century, the fragment of remaining original fen habitat was too small and isolated to provide a resilient ecosystem for wildlife. Expanding the fen to a large scale is allowing natural processes to drive change.

Restored wetlands, reedbeds and mere now support a record-breaking 9,600 species of plants, birds and invertebrates — many of them rare. This includes bitterns, cuckoos, hen harriers and short-eared owls, orchids and dragonflies. 

The site provides an opportunity to see a lost landscape’ of undrained fenland habitat. This habitat is now rare in England, but once covered vast areas including the lowlands of East Anglia. 

NATURE BASED ENTERPRISE

The site supports a café, shop and visitor centre to generate funds for the project. There is also a wild camp site and bike hire to encourage visitors to explore the wild area, and over 40km of trails to explore with options for walking, cycling and horse-riding. Wicken Fen has seen a huge overall increase in visitor numbers to the area. There are nine hides across the reserve, as well as boardwalk trails, providing a high-quality recreational experience. 

The project provides grazing opportunities for up to three local farmers and has increased local employment. It is likely that local businesses will have benefitted from the increase in the number of visitors to the area. 

KICKING-START REWILDING

Grazing animals were introduced to the project area to encourage natural processes on site. Konik ponies, Highland cattle and mixed cattle now range freely over large areas of the site. In addition, natural regeneration of habitats was encouraged through a reduction in management practices. Winter abstraction of water onto the site is also undertaken to raise water levels and re-wet habitats on site to maintain important wetland habitats throughout the year. 

Images: Wicken Fen, Glynis Pierson & Rob Coleman 

GALLERY

Credit: Wicken Fen, Glynis Pierson
Credit: Wicken Fen, Rob Coleman
Credit: Wicken Fen, Rob Coleman
Credit: Wicken Fen, Rob Coleman
Credit: Wicken Fen, Glynis Pierson

Future Plans

  1. 1 On-going extensive monitoring including vegetation, hydrology, soil quality and carbon, invertebrates and mammals. These are undertaken by local universities and many volunteers.

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