A memorable World Wetlands Day

Kester's Docking by Henry Stanier

It's 50 years since the international designation of important wetlands began, and what a year to highlight their contribution to the quantity and quality of freshwater on our planet!

Today is World Wetlands Day, marking the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar.

This convention involves designating wetlands of international importance (Ramsar Sites), one of which is our own Woodwalton Fen, located at the heart of the Great Fen. This year, World Wetlands Day will be remembered for the high water levels across the Fen, as well as the country, but also the variety of wildlife that is flocking to the Fen as a result.

On what turned out to be a mild and sunny day, the views across the Fen were fantastic whilst I carried out the important task of monitoring the water levels.

Rymes Reedbed by Henry Stanier

By Henry Stanier

A view across Rymes Reedbed on World Wetlands Day. Ditches, scrapes, ponds and meres are all full to overflowing.

With so much water on the Fen, a diverse array of birds are present, in some cases, in record numbers.  Just one field at Kester's Docking had no less than 15 little egret, with others in the adjoining field giving a total of 20. Grey heron and great white egret were also around, adding to the species list. It is amazing to think how far we have come since 2014, when construction began at Kester's.

Kester's Docking on 25 January 2021

By Henry Stanier

In January we had more water arrive, in one form or another, transforming the Fen (in this case Kester's Docking), if only briefly. The snow contributed to the rain we already had, which was followed by yet more rain.

Kester's Docking on 2 February 2021

Kester's Docking by Henry Stanier

A view to the east, across Kester's Docking on World Wetlands Day. Rain, snow and more rain meant all of the shallow scrapes (grips) were full, some merging with one another. The resulting 'islands' were being used by waders, such as lapwing and golden plover, and other birds, such as starlings.

This year, as the 'washes' are flooded, we are getting more and more birds visiting the Great Fen. This highlights the value of having a network of conservation wetlands in the region. One day, they may well become part of a fantastic biosphere reserve; yet more international recognition of the importance of our region.

It's early days in 2021, but we have already been delighted to hear, as well as see, many whooper swans and Bewick's swans, using the Fen both day and night. This is just one of the wildlife spectacles, for which the fens are so important.

Whooper swans on 18 January 2021

Whooper swans by Andy Frost

In January, 284 whooper swans were seen by Andy Frost at Kester's Docking. These birds have been using the Great Fen with increasing frequency this winter. On a calm day, you can hear their calls drifting across the Fen.

2020 was a year of great difficulty for all, but my fellow staff and volunteers at the Great Fen have rallied round to carry on with the conservation restoration work and monitoring, as best and as safely as we can.

As the restoration work continues at the Great Fen, increasing our ability to control the water levels, we can proactively bring about change. Water levels rise in target areas, and the wildlife is attracted to this Living Landscape, to overwinter, roost and to feed in the productive wetlands provided.

2021 has brought us more water than ever before, with new areas developing, such as New Decoy, where the Dragonfly Trail allows you to walk from the car park, to survey the results of the restoration work; a very 'watery' scene.

Many thanks to all of you who support the Great Fen. I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog and seeing these aerial views? Now, more than ever, it is important to let our supporters know that things are going well, even if they cannot visit themselves, and to take heart that progress is being made.

We hope that once people can visit the wider countryside again, later this year, the Great Fen will be better than ever, enabling visitors to get closer to nature, and enjoy what the Great Fen has to offer.

Henry Stanier (Great Fen Monitoring and Research Officer)

New Decoy on 2 February 2021

By Henry Stanier

A view north, across New Decoy, with Railway Covert and Holme Fen to the northwest. Jon's Hide can be seen at the front of Railway Covert, looking south over New Decoy.