Artist: Vadim Gortbatov. Art work from the book Great Fen: Artists for Nature by Chris Gerrard
The Great Fen will create a huge and diverse habitat that will be attractive for many species of wildlife. As well as larger numbers of some of the species we see on the Great Fen today, there may be new arrivals too.
One of the most impressive sights that visitors can expect to see is large flocks of wildfowl and wading birds. The new areas of open water should attract large numbers of winter waterfowl, including Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall and Shoveler. The edges of the meres could also provide nest sites for rarer breeding species, including the scarce and secretive Garganey.
The spectacular Osprey will almost certainly be seen fishing in the meres as it passes through on the way to and from Scotland. Or perhaps, as the breeding colony of Ospreys at Rutland Water expands, it may be that the Great Fen will provide attractive nest sites.
As the climate warms Little Egrets are increasingly colonising southern England. The odd individual are already being seen at the Great Fen but the new habitats may mean that this attractive bird becomes a regular visitor, and perhaps a breeder too. Other species of Egrets and Herons could well colonise the Fen and we might also see Spoonbills in the planned open-water areas. These tall, white waterbirds are rare in the UK, with under fifty birds wintering each year, and less than 10 breeding pairs.
Corn Bunting (picture by Tony House, www.seeing.org.uk) already occupy the Great Fen area and their key-jangling song is quite common in summer. In early 2012 a flock of at least 80 were seen feeding on Fat Hen and Burdock in a weedy part of one of the fields under restoration. Nationally this species has declined dramatically and is Red listed. It will be yet another important species that should benefit from the landscape-scale habitat restoration work that is taking place.
Corncrake is another possible future breeding species. Until 3 years ago, one had to travel to the Outer Hebrides to hear these birds' rasping calls in Britain. However, a re-introduction project by the RSPB on the Nene Washes is proving to be a great success. This colony is just a few miles from the Great Fen and, as suitable habitat is created here, it would be very surprising if Corncrake do not find it and move in.
One of the most exciting re-appearances that has already occurred was by Common Cranes. These large, graceful and gentle birds were once common in the fen landscape. They have an impressive 2.4 m wingspan and stands 1.2 metres tall. Across Europe, numbers have declined dramatically over the last 300 years as a result of disturbance, hunting and drainage and they disappeared from the fens entirely.
Small numbers pass through Britain on migration in the spring and autumn, but in recent years a tiny breeding population has begun to rebuild in part of Eastern England. (13 - 14 pairs in 2010). Then, for the first time in Spring 2008, the Great Fen hosted a pair of Common Cranes. They were at Woodwalton Fen for several weeks, roosting in the reedbeds by night and displaying and dancing on the restored fenland of Middle Farm and Darlow's Farm by day.
In selecting breeding sites, Cranes need areas with little disturbance. With quieter and larger areas planned for the Great Fen and as larger areas of reedbed, marsh and wetland develop, the habitats will be in place for these species to return and breed. More details about Common Cranes are here.
Many species which have lived for decades in very small populations at Woodwalton Fen and Holme Fen will be able to spread out into the restored areas. Already, rare fen plants have been found across the restored land, including Golden Dock.
For over a hundred years, Orange Foxtail was only found in one place in Huntingdonshire - Woodwalton Fen - but in 2010 a large population was found in Darlow's Farm, showing that species are spreading successfully.
The Fen Violet - found only at Woodwalton Fen and only two other sites in the UK - may also begin to spread into the wet meadows.