Holme Fen - A Reserve For All Seasons

Holme Fen - A Reserve For All Seasons

Purple loosestrife at Holme Fen - Sarah Lambert

Sarah Lambert, of the Peterborough Local Group of the Wildlife Trust BCN, looks forward to the year ahead and favourite species hoped to be found once more at Holme Fen NNR.

(We highly recommend opening Sarah's stunning photographs full screen! - GF)

Holme Fen National Nature Reserve really is a reserve for all seasons with something to see at every time of the year.

Winter is a good time to look out for mosses and lichens. As a birch woodland on acid soils, it supports many species that are uncommon in Cambridgeshire. People often overlook these smaller organisms, but some are relatively distinctive, including the starry shoots of bank haircap, red-stemmed feather-moss, and the peculiar asexual reproductive structures of the aptly named drumsticks which can occasionally be found on tree stumps. Look out for Cladonia lichens in the more heathy areas – some have ‘pixie cups’ which are particularly attractive in frosty weather.

As spring progresses I watch for the tiny catkins of bog myrtle, a sweetly-scented shrub which grows in some of the wetter parts of the site and flowers in. Late spring is the best time to appreciate the stands of foxglove which are abundant in some areas of open woodland. The range of colours and forms suggests that these originated from garden stock, but they’re certainly very well-established. May is also a good time to spot green tiger beetles which emerge from holes in the ground at the edge of the path through the heathland. This species is a voracious predator and rarely stays still for long. Nesting birds, including great spotted woodpecker, are busy feeding young and may be spotted returning to their nest-holes with food. 

As we move into summer a succession of dragonflies can be seen, including large numbers of scarce chaser, which is increasingly common in the county. The wetland plants are at their best in July, especially along the ride running parallel with the railway. This has a colourful mix of yellow loosestrife, purple loosestrife and a rare pink-and-white subspecies of hedge bindweed. July is also the month to look out for silver-washed fritillary, who patrol many of the open glades and four-banded longhorn beetle, which likes to nectar on bramble blossom and hogweed. By August the heather is in full bloom and you may see heathland insects such as bog hoverfly close by.

My favourite time of year at Holme Fen is autumn, when birch and bracken develop gold and copper tones and fungi spring from the damp, peaty soil and flourish on the plentiful decaying wood.  Early in the season, tawny grisette can be very abundant. The well-known fly agaric is present, but despite the abundance of birch, it can be quite hard to find. Other species, such as hoof fungus, are much more frequent and can be seen at any time of year on birch trunks.

I hope you enjoy exploring Holme Fen as much as me and identify some of these wonderful species for yourself. We would love to hear about your discoveries in the Peterborough Local Group of the Wildlife Trust BCN, so please come and find us on Facebook.

Sarah Lambert

Sarah is a professional botanist and plant ecologist based in Peterborough who's worked as a self-employed consultant for thirty years. In her spare time she is the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland county recorder for South Lincolnshire, and am an active member of the Wildlife Trust BCN and Langdyke Countryside Trust.