Managed by the National Trust it is one of Britain's oldest Nature Reserves, a remnant of the once massive Cambridgeshire Fens wilderness. There are more than 8,000 species of wildlife and it is a haven for over 200 bird species, plants, insects and 29 species of mammals.
In the middle of the reserve are wild habitats of fen, water and woodland. The wetland was an important part of the social and economic life of the area providing materials for thatching local houses, bedding and feed for animals as well as peat for fuel. It has been managed by the National Trust since 1899, and on site you will find wildlife trails and hides, a visitor centre and cafe as well as Fen Cottage, showing a way of life from around 1900.
It is also home to wild ponies (Koinks), otters and rare butterflies. Insects are particularly abundant with thousands of species of moth, butterfly, beetle and almost 2,000 different species of fly and 20 species of dragonfly. It is home to the Emperor Dragonfly, the largest of a species that has been around longer than humans, and the Four-Spotted Chaser and several varieties of Damselfly.
It can be explored by wide droves (wide mown tracks with borders of grasses and rushes) and lush green paths and a circular boardwalk nature trail gives access to several hides and allows easy access to a landscape of flowering meadows, sedge and reedbeds. The Boardwalk is a three quarter mile walk around the site and is accessible all year round, benches are provided at regular intervals all around the walk. The hides overlook reed-beds, marsh and open water. While The Nature Trail with it's Tower Hide (thought to be one of the oldest in the country) and Adventurers Trail take you through over 2 miles of the reserve through the last area of undrained fenland in Britain. Watch out for mosquitoes during the summer months.
A look at some of the flora, fauna and wildlife on offer
The Sedge Fen (fields) have a diverse range of plants and you will find Milk Parsley flowering in July, Marsh Pea (a rare plant) flowering June and July. Also look out for stacks of Sedge waiting for collection by Thatcher's, particularly Saw Sedge which is harvested in the summer. It is still used for thatching, other uses include, as a floor covering and to light fires. Marsh Harriers visiting in Summer and Hen Harriers in winter. It is also home to the only working wooden windpump remaining on the Fens. It was known as (Bill) Normans Mill and when it was originally on the Adventurers Fen (moved in the 1950's) it was used to drain and control water levels in turf (peat) digging pits. It no longer carries out this task, but is used to pump water onto the Sedge Fen.
The Meadow areas are dominated by grasses and wild flowers with purple and yellow loosestrife flowering from June to August, marsh thistle (up to 2m tall) and Devil's Bit Scabious from June to October. Snipes nest in the Fen meadows and both Hen Harriers and Owls can be seen in the winter months.
Within the Droves look out for plantlife such as Ragged Robin flowering May to August, early Marsh and Southern Marsh Orchids flower in June, Yellow Rattle in July. Whilst the Common Comfrey is loved by bumble bees and you may see common lizards.
Amongst the ditches, lodes and drains you may see kingfishers, reed warblers, grass snakes swimming in hot weather, dragonflies and damselflies, many species of fish and yellow and white water lilies can be seen.
There is also a woodland and Carr (which are areas of bushes and small tress up to 5m tall) where you may see flocks of Fieldfares in September feeding on buckthorn berries, woodcocks, you may hear nightingales singing and woodpeckers tapping at their respective times of year. While the Guelder Rose, a type of honeysuckle, will have white flowers in June and red berry clusters in winter.
While at the Adventures Fen, Mere and reed-beds you may see flocks of lapwings, wigeons, teals, shovelers, bitterns and bearded tits in the reeds around the Mere in winter and Marsh Harriers during the summer months. The Reed beds are harvested throughout the year except during the winter months. Reed is also used as a thatching material and is used on the sides (pitch) of the roof. It is made up of a wide variety of grasses and herbs and was traditionally used for bedding and fodder for cattle. Most modern cattle will not eat such rough hay, and so much litter is piled up in heaps to rot.
Wild Ponies and Highland Cattle
Wicken Fen has 39 wild ponies called the Koniks, one of the closest relatives to the primal ponies that once roamed across Europe, originally from Poland. It is a small, stocky, hardy, breed with a placid character and is a direct descendant of the now extinct Tarpan. They are an ideal grassland and wetland breed ideally adapted to year-round grazing. There are two groups on the Fens a breeding herd on Adventurers Fen where they can range freely across about 120 hectares. A non breeding herd on Verrall's Fen at the west end of the reserve are used for managing the fen vegetation. They love to graze on weeds, reeds and grass, so helping to stimulate wildlife diversity in their fenland habitat. There are also a herd of Highland Cattle which can be found grazing around the Mere on Bakers Fen and Adventurers Fen.
There is so much going on at this site and to find out the latest information available, organised events, latest developments and monthly bird spotting reports visit it's dedicated website.
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