Jun 11 2019

Cranes, drains and Great Fen eels: Central volunteer thank you event

The Fens – it’s not just flat farmland! It is a hidden world where there are little pockets of woodland area, which make up part of a mosaic of habitats which include grasslands, reed beds and pools. Last weekend Woodland Trust volunteers discovered the secrets of the Great Fen at the volunteer thank you event.  The weather was kind to us; the sunny Sunday was sandwiched between two wet and windy days.


Meeting at the Ramsey Heights Countryside Centre, Lorna Parker, Great Fen Restoration Manager provided the group with an introduction to the Great Fen project. This is an ambitious 50 year scheme which focuses on restoring the area to the wetlands that once dominated this landscape. This is a highly complex project, which isn’t just a case of making the area wet again.




After taking a look at the plans, the group ventured over to Woodwalton Fen, first crossing the bridge and heading into the reserve itself. The main pathway running parallel with one of the many channels runs straight through the reserve and long grasses and trees either side of the path create a natural corridor. Smaller pathways branch off and provide a great many options for walking routes. Once within Woodwalton Fen you are surrounded by quiet calmness, away from everyday noises, just the peaceful sounds of warblers singing their scratchy songs, the odd cuckoo calling, the melody of the skylark and the rustle of the leaves in the trees.




About half way down the main pathway is the Rothschild’s bungalow, a building on stilts – needed due to varying water levels. Charles Rothschild had a passion for wildlife and conducted his field studies from the bungalow. Known as the ‘father of modern conservation, Charles identified the need to protect wildlife areas from development and fortunately had the resources to be able to take action. He created the first nature reserves and the society which later became the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts. The Rothschild family link Woodwalton Fen with the Woodland Trusts Tring Park, where Charles’s brother Walter once lived. The volunteers had the opportunity to take a look inside the bungalow and were taken back in time to when Charles used the building. Historical artifacts here bring the past to life. The fens have always been important both historically and culturally and boasts a rich heritage.  Throughout history the land has been used for farming, and wildfowlers and eel catchers found food in the area.



The group then continued along the pathway, until it led right to the far end of the reserve, where the woodland area abruptly stops and gives way to a huge open space, which is a mixture of wetland and arable fields. Here Lorna told the group about the plans for the future, and the types of wild species that dwell here, including the great crane, marsh harrier and nestling bittern. The group spotted a lone hare and an egret. To find out what has been recorded lately click here.


After the walk the group went back to the centre for some tea, cake and interesting discussion!



Thank you to Lorna and the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire for hosting this event and leading the walk for us.


Amanda Brookes: Volunteer Development Officer – Central

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