The fields of Engine Farm occupy the northeast section of the project area so this land links together Old Decoy Farm and the Rymes Reedbed/Kester's Docking/Froghall Farm complex. Engine Farm is the site of the powerful steam pump, Appold's Pump, which was used to drain Whittlesea Mere in the 1850s.
The last crop was harvested on Engine Farm during September / October 2014 in preparation for archaeological field walks in November. (Please see full report of field walks here.) The area has now been seeded and the restoration process has begun.
Wildflower meadows were sown for the first time in late May 2015 at Engine Farm, and they surprised us by flowering late and well into December. Yarrow, Knapweed, Field Scabious, Corn Marigold and Ox-eyed Daisies were all flowering and providing a welcome food source for insects late into the year. In 2016 the meadow was chopped and baled and will be used for animal feed over the winter months 2016 / 2017.
Work began in January 2016 to create new areas of wetland at Engine Farm. The existing farmland has been remodelled and a series of linear ponds have been added, along with a network of dipwells to enable the water levels to be closely monitored. Many thanks to Froglife and Sita Trust for their essential help.
These linear ponds will complement three existing ponds constructed in April 2015, which were dug in association with Froglife to provide fish-free pools for our native amphibians.
In February 2016, following permission to proceed with infilling an existing ditch, and to create a new ‘linear pond’ and a pool with water control structures, work began at Engine Farm.
The Wildlife Trust Monitoring team have been out with their drone to capture the following footage which give a birds eye view of the work in progress.
In 2016 the first hay was cut and sheep put on to graze the fields following the aftermath grazing technique.
A protected species survey was carried out earlier last year (2015) and it revealed that badger activity was strong around the site, so checks were made along the ditch that is to be infilled. There was evidence that badgers had been burrowing within the bank so the trail camera was placed to monitor the area of activity over the period of a week. Footage revealed that badgers were no longer living in the burrow but were simply passing by occasionally.
This ditch has now been flailed to enable the Fen Ditching digger drivers to safely see the edges of the ditch while they are working.
Fen Ditching and the surveyor have now marked out the area to be excavated and the machinery has been taken into the yard, of the farm, ready for work to commence mid February 2016.
As there will not be any work carried out on the western portion of Engine Farm, some of the fields here are to be grazed following a request for some more grazing, from one of our established graziers, who has had to remove his sheep from the Ouse Washes due to flooding. The sward here has improved considerably following topping of the arable weeds at the end of 2015.
Watch the Froglife pools being constructed
Over the last month or so you may have noticed the Engine Farm wildflower fields have been cut. While this may seem brutal it is good management practise and will benefit the development of the wildflowers within the meadows.
Staff and volunteers have been out this spring carrying out botanical surveys within the meadows. Most species that were sown last year were recorded but the abundance of thistle, mainly creeping thistle and spear thistle, had also dramatically increased. This is partly due to the excess nutrients left in the soil from arable production and partly because of disturbance to the soil.
Thistle flowers provide a good nectar source for butterflies, bumblebees and many invertebrates. The seed they produce provides an excellent food source for many birds such as linnets and gold finches. It’s not all good though as thistle is classed as an injurious weed that can be problematic to farmers due to its invasive habit. As a result landowners have a legal duty to ensure thistles are kept under control. The thistle within the wildflower meadows is not ideal either, as it prevents the flowers and finer grasses from being able to develop and grow.
Our wildflower meadows cover some 40 hectares which is 400,000 square metres. We prefer not to use herbicides as these will take out many of the broadleaved species we want to encourage.
Our fantastic team of work party volunteers along with Great Fen staff, assisted by Natural England, spent one recent warm and sunny Friday armed with heavy duty gloves, forks, spades and other useful tools and set out to remove as many spear thistles from one field as possible.
To our amazement the whole field was completed by the end of the afternoon and as a result will hopefully prevent the return of many. This method wouldn’t be effective on creeping thistle as it propagates by its roots rather than by seed, therefore other measures were needed.
Creeping thistle needs removing before it flowers as it weakens the plant so limiting its ability to spread. As our meadows are in the early stages of establishing as wildflower meadows they are not fully developed, so cutting is required. Removing material away from the field is essential as it helps remove nutrients from the soil and coarse vegetation, enabling a balanced diversity of flora to develop.
The three wildflower meadows have now been cut and the material will be dried for a few days before being baled and removed. Just as a hay meadow would be managed.
The waymarked Last of the Meres Trail runs through the Engine Farm fields.
The area can be located on this map of the Great Fen.