Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve, in east Anglia, is one of Englandís oldest nature reserves. It used to be larger, but, in the past, the surrounding land was drained for agricultural use. It is now slowly being expanded to encompass 10,000 acres. 5000 species of birds, insects, mammals, and plants make a home in the fen meadows, reeds, wet scrub, and sedge beds. The sedge as well as fen hay are harvested which promotes more wildlife. Sedge cutting here dates back to 1419.
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The visitor centre has exhibitions on the fen and its wildlife. There is a camera focussed on bird life. Across from the visitor centre is a historic cottage built with traditional fen materials. It is thatched with reed, and in the walls sedge, peat, and reed have all been used for construction.
Trails lead visitors through the reserve. You can go on your own or with a warden on a guided walk preceded by an illustrated talk. Thereís also a tour on a traditional fen boat.
The Boardwalk trail is ĺ mile in length. The Nature trail is 2ľ miles long, and the Adventurersí lasts for 2ĺ miles. Itís best to stick to the Boardwalk trail if you donít have boots or wellies. The Boardwalk trail is circular and can accommodate wheelchairs and pushchairs. Along this path there are bog oak preserved in the peat and tall grass vegetation. Ash trees have also adapted to this environment.
Wildflowers consist of meadow thistle, yellow and purple loosestrife, and others. Ditches and drains cross the field providing an ideal habitat for dragonflies and damselflies. The lodes (manmade waterways) encourage Britainís largest dragonfly, the emperor. In winter the fen is home to owls and hen harriers.
One section along this trail is woody scrub where guelder rose blooms white in the spring and show red berries in autumn. Milk parsley and marsh pea grow in cut areas of the sedge. On the Boardwalk trail is a bird hide and the last working wooden windpump in the fens.
The Nature trail gives a more in-depth look at the undrained sedge fen. It follows the Boardwalk trail, then diverges to a pond, followed by a bog oak field and old brick kilns (closed in 1900) set off by snowdrops and apple trees planted by the brickworkers. Further along the trail are willows and aspen.
A section of scrub oak provides a habitat for mosses, ferns, birds, and beetles. A pump house drains water into the dyke from surrounding farms. Along this trail can be seen Konik ponies grazing. A tower hide offers views over the fenland. There is a small patch of bog myrtle, a stand of birch trees, and marsh orchids.
The Adventurersí trail explores reedbeds, open water, and wet grassland. Growing in this area are arrowhead and water lilies. Flooded fields are perfect for wildfowl and wading birdsówigeon, teal, and shoveler in winter and redshank and lapwing in summer. The Bakerís fen was agricultural land before its acquisition in 1993 and is now home to a group of Highland cattle. Nearby are roe deer. The reedbeds are home to marsh harriers, bitterns, and bearded tits. There are two hides along this trail.
Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve
3 miles west of Soham on Lode Lane, Ely, Cambridgeshire; south of Wicken (A1123)
Tel. 01353 72074
Open: daily, dawn to dusk; visitor centre, daily except Mon, 10am-5pm; open BH; Fen Cottage open April-end Sep, Sun and BH Mon, 2-5pm.
National Trust property. Light snacks and drinks available. Shop in visitor centre.