Great Fen lows and highs

Great Fen lows and highs

Privet hawkmoth by Henry Stanier

The month of June has brought vandalised viewpoints and mournfully low moth numbers, but the Fen is still 'Great' in more ways than one.

Trundle Mere Lookout, our ‘window on the restoration’ at Rymes Reedbed, was vandalised this month, and so is now closed. The door was ripped off and thrown through a window, along with several benches, windows were smashed, a notice board was torn down and thrown into the field, and quite a lot of the walkway screen was broken.

This is obviously dispiriting for us, during these trying times, but on a positive note, there is also good news to report. Our monitoring continues to detect yet more grasshopper warblers on the restoration land surrounding Holme Fen, and we also have young lapwings elsewhere on site and yellow wagtail families pottering about the Fen. These wildlife gains are uplifting ‘highs’ at the Great Fen, which keep staff and volunteers going, and just the sort of thing to look out for during the current 30 Days Wild. Botanical surveys have started, with the results of the high water levels being very noticeable. As the water levels have dropped, we have ended up with an increased amount of bare ground, and we do like that in this type of conservation, with the associated plants, invertebrates and birds etc.

Yellow wagtail by Jim Higham

WildNet - Jim Higham

As the weather has warmed up considerably, the insect life has finally started to respond. The ‘combined’ butterfly and dragonfly transects have resumed, picking up blue-tailed damselfly, azure damselfly, variable damselfly, large red damselfly, red-eyed damselfly, broad-bodied chaser, four-spotted chaser, scarce chaser and hairy dragonfly. More warm weather has also brought out the brown hawkers and the emperor, no less.

Right now the weather is wet, so it is worth planning ahead for the return of the sunshine, and think about what you might like to do, to get closer to wildlife. The range of dragonfly species that have already emerged will set the stage nicely for next month’s ‘dragonfly weekend’, including the Wildlife Training Workshop on dragonfly identification, for those of your who want really immerse yourself in learning about dragonflies and damselflies, or the guided walks, for a more leisurely encounter with the dragons of the Fens. So spread the word and book a place, or book two, I would enjoy sharing all-things-dragonfly with you up at Woodwalton Fen!

Emperor dragonfly female laying eggs by Ross Hoddinott/2020VISION

Emperor dragonfly {Anax imperator}, female laying eggs, Cornwall, UK. April 2010. - Ross Hoddinott/2020VISION

The cold weather has meant that we have had some really poor results from our moth surveys but on a few warmer nights, the larger species, the hawkmoths, have taken to the wing. A recent survey recorded over 250 moths of 40 species in one evening, including some of the biggest species, such as the privet hawkmoth. We also had moths with amazing camouflage, such as the buff tip, which looks like a broken twig-end. Added to these were the stunning burnished brass, the beautiful hook-tip and one of the more common hawkmoths, the poplar hawkmoth.

This time last year, we eagerly anticipated the restart of the construction of the wet farming test beds. Things have really progressing with the Water Works project, and the crops, ranging from cuckoo flower and wild celery, to yellow iris, common reed and floating sweet-grass, are benefitting from wet weather, and are showing significant growth following the warm weather. Other species have appeared, such as orange fox tail grass and toad rush; it’s so interesting for us to document the colonisation of the beds! For an update, check out a recent film report from last week.

Yellow Iris

Vaughn Matthews

If you do come up to the Great Fen, keep your eyes open. It has been another fascinating year already, and with the summer solstice approaching, there are plenty of daylight hours to spend on the lookout for new species colonising the Fen, or the return of once lost species. One species of particular interest to us is the polecat, which is steadily increasing in numbers in the local counties covered by the Wildlife Trust. Read more about this amazing mustelid here, and report back to us if you see it, we look forward to hearing from you.

Henry Stanier (Great Fen Monitoring and Research Officer)

Polecat face

Polecat face - Henry Stanier