This long-established nature reserve has grass paths, tranquil waterways, wet meadows, reedbed and woodland and, of course, a range of abundant flora and fauna.
The reserve is relatively small (500 acres, 208 hectares) but is recognised nationally and internationally for its wildlife importance.
It was the incredible array of invertebrate life that attracted entomologist and banker Charles Rothschild, in 1910, to save this nature reserve from the surrounding drainage.
More than 1000 beetle species - terrestrial and aquatic - have been recorded in the reserve. Of these nearly 200 are rare in Britain, often because their food plants or the habitat itself has become scarce.
More than 900 species of moths and butterflies have been recorded in Woodwalton Fen. The reserve has more rare or notable moths than any other site in the country and these include the huge pink-toned Elephant Hawk-moth and the very rare Marsh Carpet moth.
Woodwalton Fen was the site of attempts to re-introduce the Large Copper butterfly during the 20th century.
Almost half of all the UK's dragonfly species can be found in Woodwalton Fen and visitors in summer are likely to see dragonflies and damselflies of all sizes and colours. There is a good chance of seeing, for example, the electric-blue of the Common Blue Damselfly, the blues and greens of Britain's largest species, the Emperor Dragonfly and the small blood-red male Ruddy Darter. There are also unusual species such as the White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes) and the Scarce Chaser (Libellula fulva). The full list of species recorded and many excellent pictures are here. For more details of these species the new website of the British Dragonfly Society is highly recommended.
"Woodwalton Fen, Cambridgeshire. A first time visit today to this superb site saw the following being seen: 8 Four-spot Chaser, 41 Azure Damselfly, 6 Variable Damselfly, 6 Blue-tailed damselfly, 10 Red-eyed Damselfly, 4 Large-red Damselfly, 3 Hairy Dragonfly and finally the target species, 18 Scarce Chaser. "
Steve Routledge, 7 May 20011
A wildlife highlight of Woodwalton Fen is the magnificent aerial display of Marsh Harriers over the northern reedbed. The Marsh Harrier almost died out as a UK breeding species just a few decades ago due to persecution. Since the 1960s the population has recovered to an estimated 400 breeding pairs, nesting both in reedbeds and, increasingly, in farmland. Woodwalton is at the western edge of the species' breeding range in southen England. Sometimes in winter Hen Harriers are also recorded coming to roost in the shelter of the reeds.
In spring and summer, Hobbies can be seen darting to catch dragonflies over the meres. Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Kestrel, Red Kite are all regularly seen along with occasional Merlin in winter.
Tawny and Barn Owls are regularly seen or heard and the 'squeaky gate' call of the secretive Long-eared Owl have also been heard.
Kingfishers breed and can be seen along the dykes and around the meres at any time of year. The bridge over Great Raveley Drain is a favourite place to watch for this colourful iconic species.
The two meres attract a range of wildfowl, particularly in winter. Mallard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon, Coot, Little and Great Crested Grebes, Canada and Greylag Geese, Mute Swan, Cormorant and Grey Heron occur regularly. Garganey have been recorded and there are also recent winter records of Pintail, Shovelor and Pochard. Most winters, the reserve has one or two Bitterns. This secretive and well-camouflaged heron is one of the most threatened birds in the UK, with only about 600 wintering bitterns across the country.
Throughout the year, Woodwalton Fen is alive with bird songs and calls.
In the spring and summer Grasshopper Warblers breed in the grass and scrub areas. In the reed beds and along the dyke edges, you can often see Reed Buntings and hear the scratchy songs of Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers. Cetti's Warbler has also been recorded. Cuckoos are often seen searching for Reed Warbler nests in which to lay their eggs and in the evenings Woodcock have been recorded roding. The usual woodland species breed in the wooded areas of the reserve.
Every autumn brings the "chack, chack, chack" of Fieldfares, along with the thin "seep, seep" of Redwings. Mixed tit flocks roam through the bushes, searching out grubs and seeds and keeping in touch by constantly calling to each other. Flocks of Lesser Redpoll and Siskin feed in the alder trees.
Perhaps the most frequently seen mammal at Woodwalton Fen is the Chinese Water Deer. This is a small deer, with tusks instead of antlers and is not native to Britain. Habitat loss in China means that it is now endangered there. This species established itself following an escape from Woburn and now a quarter of all Chinese Water Deer live wild in the UK, and an estimated 2% of the world population can be found at Woodwalton Fen!
Otters are occasionally seen in Woodwalton Fen and, during the wintertime, some visitors have discovered their tracks in the snow.
The Water Vole, an endangered species in the UK, is found in the ditches amongst the abundant plants. Attempts are being made to monitor this species througout the Great Fen, where the agricultural ditch network is particularly suitable for them. Other small mammals include Water Shrews, Stoats and Weasels.
In the evening, bats can found hunting the many insects, including one of the rarest, the Barbestelle bat. Daubentons bat, a particular wetland specialist, can often be seen from Jacksons bridge, hunting low over water.
More than 400 species of wildflowers and other plants can be found on the nature reserve, many of which rely on the fen habitat to survive. Wildflowers such as Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria) and Marsh Pea (Lathyrus palustris) create carpets of purple, yellow, pink and white in the summer. On the fragments of ancient, acid peat, which survived the peat cutting of the 20th century, Purple Moor Grass (Molinia caerulea), Meadow Rue (Thalictrum) , Great Water Dock (Rumex hydrolapathum) and the rare, beautifully fragrant Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale) can be found. In the ditches there are the rare and carnivorous Bladderwort (Utricularia) and Water Violet (Hottonia palustris).
Of particular importance are the Fen Violet (Viola persicifolia), found in only two other places the UK, and the Fen Woodrush (Luzula pallidula), found nowhere else in the country. For more details of these two very special plants please see The Great Fen – last chance for endangered fen plants? by Alan Bowley, Great Fen Senior Reserves Manager.
"The future of plants like these hangs in the balance... the gene pool is in becoming severely restricted, leaving fewer opportunities for selection of individuals able to adapt to climate change. " Alan Bowley 15 January 2010
Details and maps are here.
You can also read the history of this nature reserve here.