Woodwalton Fen Rothschild Bungalow Winter 2020 Flooding - Tristan Colaco

Tristan Colaco, Natural England Reserve Warden, looks at the impact that the extremely wet winter has had on Woodwalton Fen NNR

Winter 2020/21 was wet, very wet! According to the official data at the Met Office, it was the 2nd wettest winter on record in Cambridgeshire. This resulted in widespread flooding nationally and on our doorstep. Woodwalton Fen NNR, taking on excess flood water, saw its highest water levels since 1998. The town of Ramsey was also impacted in the days close to Christmas, seeing flooding in areas which had not been affected before, or at least not for many years. 

 

This flooding caused damage to a number of bridges at Woodwalton Fen. Some of this damage was relatively minor, but some required full scale repair. Where it was minor, a sleeper or two out of place or some slippery silt deposited on the surface of the bridge, we have been able to get out on site with hand tools. We have also been adding anti-slip strips to aid visitors in crossing some of the more slippery bridges in the more frequented parts of the site. 
 

Flood damage and repair to bridge near work base at Woodwalton Fen

Flood damage and repair to bridge near work base at Woodwalton Fen - Tristan Colaco

New non-slip strips on bridge at Woodwalton Fen

New non-slip strips on bridge at Woodwalton Fen - Tristan Colaco

However, the damage to some of the bridges was more significant and will require large heavy machinery to repair. Unfortunately, with the ground conditions still extremely soft due to the wet winter we have been unable to fix the worst affected bridges.

Woodwalton Fen bridge flood damaged so severely as to require large machinery to repair

Woodwalton Fen bridge flood damaged so severely as to require large machinery to repair - Tristan Colaco

In fact, ground conditions have been so soft that just walking on the tracks became problematic. Even a couple of trips back and forth by foot was enough to start churning the ground.  This is a more significant problem than it may seem. Our tracks represent a unique habitat on site, supporting a rich and varied flora. Where the tracks are wet and soft, the soil is very easily disturbed. If this disturbance is happening too regularly, the flora that makes the tracks so special cannot gain a foothold and the habitat can be badly damaged. Furthermore, significant damage to the tracks can make vehicular access around site difficult, which poses a problem for NNR staff trying to do management work later in the year.

Badly damaged track at Woodwalton Fen NNR due to soft ground conditions

Badly damaged track at Woodwalton Fen NNR due to soft ground conditions - Tristan Colaco

This combination of dangerous flood-damaged bridges and potential damage to the flora on our tracks led us to make the difficult decision to close Woodwalton Fen NNR for much of the winter. We appreciated your patience and respect for the closure notices.

The good news is that the site is now beginning to dry out, allowing us to undertake enough repairs to make much of the site safely accessible. As a result, we have recently taken the decision to reopen the site, which I'm sure many of you will be delighted to hear. Some paths remain closed due to those damaged bridges that we have been unable to repair so far, therefore we would ask that you follow any signage you see on the NNR. Many thanks for your continued support and cooperation and welcome back!