The Great Fen has made huge strides forward since it began in 2001. Now more than 2140 acres (866 hectares) are in active restoration. The timeline below shows some of the most significant events.
The areas of land mentioned can be located on the Project Area Map.
The first area of land to be purchased is Darlow's Farm in 2002, adjacent to Woodwalton Fen. It enlarges the existing nature reserve by 40%.
The first area of land next to Holme Fen is purchased. Summer Standing (81 acres, 33 hectares) is important in enabling Holme Fen National Nature Reserve to retain a higher water level. Holme Fen has been drying out since the drainage of the Whittlesea Mere in the 1850s, putting its rare wildlife under threat.
The purchase and restoration is made possible by Biffaward, the Charles Hayward Charitable Trust, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Natural England and the Tubney Charitable Trust.
Middle Farm (452 acres, 183 hectares) is purchased from a local farming family with assistance from central government through Communties and Local Government funding. The land is next to Woodwalton Fen and Darlow’s Farm. Farmer Jonathan continues to work on the land to help with restoration work, including seeding, grazing livestock and taking hay crops.
These nationally declining birds are able to nest in farmland but, to breed successfully, the chicks require moist, soft ground to feed. This land is in abundance on Darlow’s Farm.
Resident Barn Owls and Kestrels, also in decline nationally, successfully breed on Darlow’s Farm with plenty of access to food in the new grassland.
The Great Fen has an unprecedented extended visit by a pair of Common Cranes. These majestic birds disappeared from the fenland landscape about 400 years ago due to habitat change and hunting. Chris Gerrard watched them at sunrise:
“They began bowing before leaping into the air, wings spread. The dance ended in brief mating behaviour that has not been witnessed in Cambridgeshire for many years.”
An historic milestone for the Great Fen, with £7.2 million funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and match funding from many other organisations and individuals. This funding will enable the purchase and restoration of 3,255 acres of land (1,317 hectares), surrounding Holme Fen. Habitats to be created include reedbeds, hay meadows, wet meadows and open water, with pockets of woodland throughout.
This is the largest amount of funding ever awarded by the Lottery to a natural history project. Six members of staff are employed over a five-year period to carry out the work, including restoration, monitoring, and wide-ranging schools and community work.
The Great Fen will begin to establish new habitat areas starting with grasslands. These grasslands will be made wetter very gradually. New water control measures such as new ditches, dams and sluices are to be built. These control structures will allow the restoration of the wetlands without affecting the surrounding arable land.
Corney's Farm and New Decoy Farm are seeded with grass seeds to take nutrients out of the soil, ready for the next stages of restoration, including hay crops and grazing. These areas will support breeding and wintering birds, as well as many other wildlife species. This is part of the Holmewood Estate Project.
Plans are made to further increase numbers of this endangered species as part of the restoration work.
Rare wetland plants are found on the wet meadows of Darlow's Farm and Summer Standing. These include Golden Dock, Marsh Dock and Water Dropwort. For 100 years, Orange Foxtail was only found in Huntingdonshire on Woodwalton Fen, but is now also found in large numbers on Darlow's Farm. Rare water beetles are found in watercourses in the restored areas.
An area the size of Woodwalton Fen - 200 times the size of Trafalgar Square – comes under restoration and will become a huge area of reedbed, with pools and wet grassland. It is named after a historic reedbed that once occupied the same area on the fringes of Whittlesea Mere, drained in 1851. Design work begins on planning the new landforms, habitat areas, and water control structures.
This work is made possible by HLF funding and additional funders including the WREN Biodiversity Fund and the Environment Agency.
An elevated hide, Trundle Mere Lookout, is built on the northeast corner of Holme Fen. This wheelchair-accessible tower hide enables visitors to watch the restoration work as it happens and to observe the wildlife attracted to this new, living landscape. and this The lookout gives panoramic views across the new area.
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.
Work begins on the next stage of diverting the main Internal Drainage Board (IDB) dyke that crosses the Great Fen area at New Decoy and Corney's Farm.
Here are other key events in the history of the Great Fen project.
Schools and community projects, and the creation of new facilities for visitors.
An increasing national and international profile.