With visits by the Prince of Wales, record breaking lottery grants and world premiere concerts introduced by Stephen Fry and Paul Gambaccini, the Great Fen has developed national renown and wide support. The timeline below shows some of the most important events.
Five partner organisations come together to begin planning the Great Fen: Environment Agency, Huntingdonshire District Council, Middle Level Commissioners, Natural England and the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.
Each partner brings expertise and sees a range of potential benefits, including wildlife and conservation benefits, a space for people, health and recreation, providing flood protection for surrounding communities and farmland, and economic and tourism benefits.
This grant supports a key 5-year appointment: the Great Fen Project Manager.
In a first for the UK, renowned artists from around the world visit the Great Fen and create artwork inspired by its wildlife and landscapes. ANF is a Dutch-based charity that helps to raise the profile of environmental issues around the world through art.
"Unique is a word that is used too frequently, but this really is a unique project and landscape.” Sir John Major
"In a lifetime given over to fatuity, frivolity and foolishness it pleases me to know that I have done one thing right. I have become involved withthe Great Fen Project. I can’t remember a more inspiring day than the one I spent being shown round the Great Fen at Woodwalton." Stephen Fry
Stephen grew up in the region, and has a special affinity with the area. He said:
“The Fens stand as one of the most misunderstood, neglected and extraordinary features of the British landscape. Not to mention beautiful.... I am very proud to be involved with a new drive to protect, understand and evangelise this unique part of our country.”
BBC Radio 4 broadcast a half hour programme about the Great Fen, featuring writer and naturalist Richard Mabey, local historian, Rex Sly, and Great Fen Project Manager, Chris Gerrard, among others.
The culmination of two years' work, the Great Fen Artists for Nature book contains stunning artwork. The book also explains the fascinating history of the area and how the project will change the landscape over the coming decades.
The series, presented by Alan Titchmarsh, heralded the project as a model for conservation of the future.
The Campaign Executive Group, led by Sir Charles Chadwyck-Healey and Baroness Barbara Young, are instrumental in developing support and profile for the Great Fen Project.
His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, visits Woodwalton Fen in March. In April, Stephen Fry, President of the Great Fen Campaign, writes a letter to the Prince inviting him to become Royal Patron of the Great Fen. In the reply, his private secretary said:
“The Prince of Wales is simply thrilled to become Patron of this splendid project and is so touched that you should have thought to invite him”.
Sir Charles Rothschild purchased Woodwalton Fen in 1910, one of the first nature reserves in Britain. (Details are here.) His great-granddaughter is now helping to continue his legacy.
Funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, with match funding from many organisations, and more than 1200 donors, this grant will fund the purchase and restoration of 3,200 acres (1,300 acres) of land, surrounding Holme Fen. In addition six members of staff will be employed over a five year period to carry out the work, including restoration, monitoring, and schools and community work.
The good news is widely publicised on national television and radio.
The dinner in Cambridge raises funds for and profile of the Great Fen. Stephen entertains guests with an after-dinner speech in which he praises the Great Fen and talks of the vital importance of preserving the precious remnants of fenland areas.
Among 180 guests is the Rt Hon Sir John Major, former Prime Minister and patron of the Great Fen. Sir John addresses attendees in a warm, enthusiastic speech.
“As an East Anglian resident, it’s a project that is close to my home as well as my heart. One can seldom find space in our busy and crowded world, but the Great Fen Project delivers that in triplicate: space, tranquillity and the sheer beauty of the landscape and its native habitat. We should treasure this, alongside encouraging more people – young and old – to enjoy the experience, thus improving the local economy through tourism.”
The Great Fen is featured on Chanel 4 News, BBC News, BBC Radio 4 and several national newspapers. ‘The Times’ says the project is ”a blueprint on how to restore habitat while balancing the needs and demands of neighbouring interests.”
Concerts take place in the majestic settings of Peterborough Cathedral and King’s College, Cambridge. Introduced by Great Fen President, Stephen Fry, and radio and television presenter, Paul Gambaccini the concerts, a celebration of the natural world, are performed by the Britten Sinfonia.
As well as classics such as Vaughn William’s ‘Lark Ascending’, the programme includes a new orchestral piece, Whitel’s Ey, by world-renowned composer John Woolrich: a work inspired by the landscape and wildlife of the Great Fen.
Nigel gives a special lecture in Cambridge to raise funds and profile for the Great Fen. He says:
“I was so impressed by the dedication and enthusiasm of the staff and volunteers, I jumped at the chance to be a patron of such an important and heart-warming project. In my lifetime, I am sure, that with a bit of help from all of us, flocks of majestic cranes will be gliding down to nest in England’s Everglades.”
Up against major national planning projects including the redevelopment of Regent’s Street, the Great Fen is awarded the Silver Jubilee Cup, the Royal Town Planning Institute’s overall top award. This is after receiving the Institute’s award in the Rural Areas and the Natural Environment category. The awards are widely regarded as being the ‘Oscars’ of the planning world. The judges commented:
“This widely celebrated project demonstrates the role that planners and the planning system can play in providing for people, wildlife and the local economy”.
Convened and addressed by EU Minister Ladislave Miko, Director for Nature in the Directorate General for Environment of the European Commission, the international conference was dedicated to protecting the wild spaces of Europe. Alan Bowley gave a presentation about the Great Fen to experts from across the globe. He said:
"It was a great honour to be invited to give a presentation at this conference. The other delegates were very impressed by the breadth and vision of the Great Fen.”
Defra Minister, Richard Benyon, says:
“The Great Fen is not only an area of unique and intense raw beauty, but is vital in helping conserve our wildlife, protecting local communities from floods, and providing them with business opportunities."
Stunning photographs and film of the Great Fen tour in a national exhibition organised by the UK’s top 20 wildlife photographers, including television presenter and cameraman, Chris Packham.
A campaign begins to raise funds and create a new visitor centre in the heart of the Great Fen. A competition hosted by the Royal Institute of British Architects invites design ideas for the new building.
12 volunteers are recruited to become the public face of the project at weekend and bank holidays. Their role includes visiting all the public areas and interacting with the public.
His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales extends his patronage of the Great Fen for a further five years.
A further £1.89m is granted from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the purchase and revision of the lease of Engine Farm and its restoration.
An appeal is launched to help generate match funding to transform another 182 hectares (450 acres) of land at the heart of the Great Fen (Engine Farm). This will increase the area for wildlife by almost a fifth.
£249,600 funding from WREN Biodiversity Action Fund recieved for habitat creation and restoration at Kesters Docking.
£70,603 received from SITA Trust (now SUEZ Communities Trust) for habitat restoration at Engine Farm
£49,756 funding received from Biffa Award for the Last of the Meres trail
£50,000 funding received from Viridor Credits towards the engineering work necessary to create wet grassland at New Decoy and Corney's Farms.
Here are other key events in the history of the Great Fen project.
How the land has been restored over time and the wildlife that has benefitted.
Schools and community projects, and the creation of new facilities for visitors.