Season after season and year on year, the land across the Great Fen is beginning to change, bringing new wildlife and new places for visitors to explore.
Where there were once arable fields you can now see sheep and cattle grazing. Hay crops are being taken off some of the land and new facilities for visitors are being developed. In the lowest lying areas, work will soon be beginning to create reedbeds and open water. In other areas, you can see meadows forming and fen wildlife beginning to return and flourish.
There are also areas where farmers are still growing arable crops, either under tenancy agreements or in areas which are not owned by the Great Fen partners. There you can still see fields of dark peat, the 'black gold' that used to make these fields so productive.
All the areas below can be located on the Project Area Map.
Size: 205 acres (83 hectares)
Restoration began: 2004
The first area of Great Fen land to be purchased was Darlow's Farm in 2002, adjacent to Woodwalton Fen. Its purchase enlarged the existing nature reserve by 40%. This ground-breaking start to the Great Fen project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The following years have seen significant changes at Darlow's Farm under the management of Natural England.
Water levels have been raised by installing sluices and dams. Cattle, including Highland Cattle, helped to create variety in grass lengths, and natural water areas. From the north and west banks of Woodwalton Fen you get beautiful views out over wet meadows, with some water lying on the fields during winter and spring. This attracts wintering birds and nesting waders, such as Lapwing and Snipe, whose chicks rely on the wet soils to feed.
Currently the fields are grazed by herds of Hereford and Angus cattle from May to November and a small amount of hay is cut on the site in July.
Darlow's Farm is the original home of Darlow's Cottage, currently being rebuilt at Ramsey Rural Museum as an example of a First World War pre-fabricated dwelling. There was a also a building that once housed prisoners of war, but now all that is left is rubble and a tall conifer, once a humble Christmas tree planted in the garden.
Size: 81 acres (33 hectares)
Restoration began: 2005
This area of land on the southern border of Holme Fen National Nature Reserve was purchased in 2005. Holme Fen has been drying out since the drainage of the Whittlesea Mere in the 1850’s, putting its rare wildlife under threat, but Summer Standing has been important in helping Holme Fen to retain a higher water level.
There is a beautiful view out over Summer Standing from the southern edge of Holme Fen, with areas of standing water in winter. Cattle can often be seen grazing on this part of the fen, and surveying this restored area has found some rare plant species including Golden Dock.
The purchase and restoration was made possible by Biffaward, the Charles Hayward Charitable Trust, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Natural England and the Tubney Charitable Trust.
Size: 452 acres (183 hectares)
Restoration began: 2006
This farm lies west of Woodwalton Fen and south of Darlow’s Farm. Local farmer, Jonathan Papworth, sold Middle Farm (452 acres, 183 hectares) to the Great Fen partners.
Jonathan has continued to work on the land to help with restoration work, including seeding, grazing livestock and taking hay crops.
Size: 187 acres (76 hectares)
Restoration began: 2009
Funded by the Holmewood Estate Project, restoration work at Corney's Farm began with grass seeding, a process which helps to bind the fine peat soil. Over decades of farming, fertiliser had been added to the soil so, to help fen flora to grow successfully again, the initial focus at Corney's Farm has been to remove nutrients from the soil by growing hay and and grazing sheep through the winter.
Shortly Corney’s Farm will undergo a period of re-wetting. This will include making new ditches, re-shaping existing agricultural dykes and then adding water to the land. This water will find its own natural levesl, creating areas of wet and semi-wet habitat.
After re-wetting Corney’s farm will become a haven for wetland wildlife to flourish. It is hoped that many wetland species such as Lapwing and Redshank will be heard and seen throughout the spring months as they display across the marsh. It will be colonised by wetland plants and insects such as the rare Scare Chaser dragonfly.
After the breeding season, cattle will be introduced to parts of the site while other areas will continue to be cut for hay. This type of management should produce a great mosaic of habitat and add to the rich diversityof the site.
Size: 210 acres (85 hectares)
Restoration began: 2009
Old Decoy farm is on the north-east boundary of the project area. It lies to the north of the B660 and is bounded by the old course of the River Nene. Part of the Holmewood Estate Project, restoration began on Old Decoy Farm in 2009. The land was seeded with grass to take nutrients out of the soil, ready for the next stages of restoration, including hay crops and grazing. Sheep can now been seen grazing on the site. In early 2013 many of the drainage ditches were re-profiled or filled in, so that water can be channelled from the river across the fields: for more details please see the news item: Drains, dykes and ditches.
Size: 163 acres (66 hectares)
Restoration began: 2010
The Great Fen team have been working with local contractors to create new visitor facilities at New Decoy Information Point, just off the B660 road.
There is a new car park and picnic area, with bog oak and willow fencing. There is a trail for visitors, illustrated information about the restoration, history and wildlife. A bird hide made of straw bales has been built with the help of community groups and this looks out over an area which is being transformed into wet pasture.
In February 2013 major work was carried out to redirect a drain that takes water from the the south across New Decoy Farm. Please see: Drains, dykes and ditches.
This work has been made possible by the Heritage Lottery Funded Holmewood Estate Project, Woodford Waste Community Fund, administered by Grantscape, Biffaward's Million Ponds Project and SITA. See also Funded Projects.
Size: 330 acres (134 hectares)
Restoration began: 2011
Rymes Reedbed lies north east of Holme Fen National Nature Reserve. It is named after an historic reedbed that once occupied the same spot 200 years ago, before the drainage of the Whittlesea Mere. The Rymes Reedbed area will consist of about 30-40 ha of actual reedbed, fringed with about 50 ha of wet and semi wet grassland.
This work is made possible by the Heritage Lottery Funded Holmewood Estate Project, WREN, Environment Agency, and WREN Biodiversity Action Fund. See also Funded Projects.
Find out more about the stages of restoration for different habitats in How is the land restored?