Water Works Waves Farewell to 2020

Lorna Parker with Meadowsweet at Water Works - Danielle Page

The autumn planting period at the Great Fen Water Works project reaches a successful conclusion


  • 6.5 beds (out of 10) are now planted with wetland crops
  • 50,000 plants planted over 10 weeks during September/October/November
  • 23 planting days – out in all weathers
  • 207 people (staff and volunteers) have helped with the planting
  • In spring we will be planting 150,000 Sphagnum moss propagules!
  • Despite Covid, we came through! (with a lot of help)

Monday 23 November saw the end of the autumn Water Works project planting marathon. It has been a mammoth task which has had to overcome every conceivable obstacle (who could have predicted a global pandemic?) to be achieved. We now have 6.5 of 10 planting beds planted up with wet farming crops - approximately 3.5 ha. of the 5 ha. wet farming trial area on the Great Fen.

Planting started in early September and took place on 23 days over 10 weeks. September was summer (shorts) and the end of November (frost) definitely winter!

An amazing 207 people came and helped. Great Fen staff and volunteers, Wildlife Trust BCN staff (teams from Finance, Fundraising, Reserves, and Wider Countryside), staff and volunteer groups from Natural England (including the Woodwalton Fen NNR and Holme Fen NNR team), Peterborough Youth Rangers group and Huntingdonshire Local Group, Water Resources East, a corporate group from Sawston Get Busy UK (very appropriate name) all joined in.  We also had some VIPs visit and (in some cases) plant, notably Craig Bennett, our own Wildlife Trusts CEO, Tony Juniper Chair of Natural England (a mean hand with a dibber!), and a group from central government, the Conservative Environment Group, with Defra officials.

Our Water Works project partners at UK Centre of Ecology & Hydrology also visited to set up their carbon flux measuring equipment, which is now in action bringing a futuristic flavour to the fen (shades of snaky cable human battery linkages in The Matrix!).

All the planting was done by hand, although in the latter stages Martin Parsons, our brilliant Great Fen Volunteer Officer, devised a cunning plan using a hand held drill with a soil auger attachment which speeded things up considerably (as long as the charge lasted). We started off with bulrush, moved on to reed (never ending) then on to our wetland cereal crop, Glyceria fluitans or sweet manna grass, and then, by way of light relief, our novel wetland crops (applications in food and flavouring and for bio medical use)  including flag iris, water mint, wild celery, meadowsweet, cuckoo flower, hemp agrimony, and watercress. 

All the way through this we kept everyone Covid safe, working in bubbles of 6 and maintaining social distancing. As default bubble leaders Great Fen Restoration Officers Helen Bailey and Mark Ullyett were there on nearly all the 23 planting days, but everyone on the Great Fen team helped (I managed a lightweight 15 days) and we certainly couldn’t have begun to manage without the help of all our Wildlife Trust BCN colleagues and the groups mentioned above, so a huge THANK YOU to everyone and particularly to Lorna Parker (Great Fen Restoration Manager) who led the enterprise.

Great Fen Restoration Officer Mark Ullyett tries his luck at jumping the Great Fen ditches.

It was all surprisingly enjoyable! Everyone involved felt a great sense of achievement and there's nothing like a day spent getting filthy, cold and wet out on the Fen to put life’s problems into perspective (and do our bit against climate change). Our wetland crops will be preventing the loss of CO², cleaning water and preserving the peat.

The next challenge comes in the spring when we will be planting 150,000 sphagnum moss propagules! 

Kate Carver
Great Fen Project Manager

And finally...have you met the Great Fen Hairymobile? 

The Hairy Great Fen Landrover Carrying Reeds for Planting at Water Works

The Hairy Great Fen Landrover Carrying Reeds for Planting at Water Works - Kate Carver

In 2019 the Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs and Northants, working with project partners, was awarded £1m by the People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund for its Water Works project.

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