Friday, 21 November 2014

Winter Water Fun

The beginning of winter is the signal for a few jobs to be done around the fen.

Firstly we start abstracting water onto the fen in November. We have a few abstraction points dotted around, the most obvious being the wind pump on the Sedge Fen side of Wicken Lode. I turned the water onto Burwell Fen last week, filling up the scrapes next to Reach Lode. These areas create excellent habitat for wildfowl and waders, we’re already seeing a lot of our winter migrants, like widgeon, coming in. The abstraction mimics the winter flooding that would occur naturally if the water ways weren’t so closely controlled. Maintaining these water levels is important to the plant communities and, along with the sedge cutting, is one of the most important management tools we use to preserve fen conditions.

Water turned on onto Burwell Fen
Ruby and I did another winter job this week and removed the temporary pontoon from Wicken Lode. The pontoon is used over the summer for the boat trips during the day. As it is up by the junction with Monk’s Lode it reduces the amount of traffic going down the Wicken Lode spur, which has a delicate balance of rare aquatic plants and invertebrates. Even though it is a cold job having to submerge your arms in the water to unscrew the shackles, it was fun riding on the pontoon, keeping it away from the banks, as Ruby towed it down the lode. We then pulled it out of the lode with the tractor, and have hidden it in the scrub ready to be pulled back out in the spring.

The pontoon emerging from the Lode.
There are some beautiful sunsets occurring over the fen at the moment, and some impressive starling murmurations. I’ve already seen lots photographers out, and even I’ve managed to get some good pictures on my phone.

Baker's Fen looking pretty in the sunset
We had the grand opening of our newly refurbished docky hut on Tuesday. It is looking superb, with fresh green walls, a new dishwasher and fridge, and a fancy hot water dispenser. Well done to Ruby and her troops who have done a fantastic job.

The fancy new Docky Hut

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

A rave, cutting and slubbing

This time of year we are quite busy down the fen, trying to get the cutting finished before the water table rises, slubbing the ditches out, and getting ready for our winter tree work.

Rave at Burwell Fen

Over the first weekend of November an rave took place on Burwell Fen, clearly this had a considerable impact on the wildlife present on site as well as our ponies and cattle grazing the field next door. Dealing with it, the rubbish and vandalism has taken the best part of a week so far to sort out and is costing a considerable amount to repair.

The good news is that so far we have seen lots of signs that the wildlife is getting back to normal, owl pellets in the barn as well as Barn Owls and Short Eared Owls in the fields near by, kingfishers in the ditches, Marsh Harriers, and deer roaming about. The bunded wetter area is also doing well, I haven’t spent any time with the binoculars out but I have spotted Little Egrets, Kestrels and lots of ducks and geese.

We have filled a big skip up with rubbish and bits of fence that were ripped down to gain access in as well as out of the barn site. A huge amount of rubbish, mostly drinks cans bottles and boxes along with zillions of small gas bottles, balloons and toilet roll (shudder), the site also doubled as a toilet for the rave. Adding to the frustration was the fact that quite a bit of the litter was stuck to the barn floor and had to be pressure washed off, no tap or power on site so we had to fill a bowser and hire a pressure washer in.

I spent most of Sunday at Burwell Fen, making sure that people didn’t accidentally let our ponies and cattle out by attempting to leave the wrong way, chatting to people down there to let them know that the site is a nature reserve so they might have some inkling of the damage being caused and in general keeping an eye on things. One thing that was evident was the complete ignorance to the level of damage being caused, and the value of the countryside. Numerous people reassured me that they would tidy the mess up, and that they do after such events. Some apologised for the actions of others but were unable to rectify there impact as over 1000 people were estimated to have attended, and others just didn’t really seem to mind. An effort was made to tidy up by a small number of people, I would think that about 30 bin bags were filled. Those 30 bags did make a difference, and were collected in good spirits, I don’t want to completely disregard this assistance but it was in effect a token effort. People might have gone home thinking that they made good, that they cleared their mess and even some of the mess of others, but the collective mess of the rave was still strewn all over the place. No one should be under the illusion that the rave left us to deal with anything but a massive mess, an orange poo was discovered, 11 medical grade nitrogen oxide bottles were dumped on site, fences had to be rebuilt. If you visited for the rave please come back and see what a fantastic place Burwell Fen is and recognise the impact the rave had.

Here are a few pics and a video from Burwell Fen, sometimes the video isn't showing so sorry if you have a big gap here.

Looking forwards, the fences are fixed locks have been replaced and we are now almost ready to let our ponies and cattle have access to the whole of Burwell Fen.


Slubbing is the clearing out of ditches, in a conservation context it is usually carried out over varying intervals to promote diversity. At Wicken we have ditches cleared out from every 2 years up to every 12 if my memory of the management plan serves me correctly. Some ditches are also left to naturally succeed without being cleared at all. By clearing the ditch out the process of succession where different species slowly take over from one another over time is stopped and put back to the beginning. As different species depend on the various stages of this succession the different slubbing rotations provide as many species as possible the niches they require to thrive.

Here Jason is slubbing out the Wind Pump Ditch next to the boardwalk. The slubb is being put in a dumper and moved into another field. Often there isn’t anywhere to move the slubb to so it is spread out on the ground next to the ditch.


We have had a lot of trouble cutting the fen this year as it has been too wet to get machinery on to large areas of it. At the moment we are working on the two remaining areas waiting to be cut; the higher areas around the boardwalk and the Butterfly Trail. The sides of the boardwalk get cut on similar rotations to the rest of the Sedge Fen but just scaled down. The narrow bits next to the boardwalk are cut throughout the year, level with the boardwalk to keep them from growing over and everyone getting wet, at the end of the year they are then cut down to ground level and the litter removed and piled up, similar to the droves on the fen. This reduces the amount of nutrients being left on the ground and encourages a more diverse growth in following years. There are a also few sections of the boardwalk that run next to ditches, we can't get our tractors to these bits so they are cut with a brush cutter. As they are slightly higher than the rest of the fen most of them can be cut slightly later in the year than the rest of the fen as they stay dry. Cutting with a brush cutter and clearing by hand also means the ground doesn’t get too churned up.These sections are cut on a three year rotation like the compartments on the Sedge Fen.

Once this is all done, it is off to the Butterfly Trail. Plenty of care to protect the grass tussocks where lots of larvae spend the winter. The plan is also for a good deal of chainsawing to create a new glade and hopefully some stump grinding too.

Lots to do!

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