The National Trust’s first nature reserve at Wicken Fen is celebrating its 120th anniversary
An East Anglian nature reserve where marsh harriers soar above reed-beds and konik ponies graze the fens is celebrating its 120th anniversary with further expansion plans to boost wildlife.
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, a rare surviving area of undrained fenland, was the National Trust's first nature reserve
The trust claims the wetland is the most species-rich area of the UK with more than 9,300 recorded, including 25 that were new to the UK and seven declared as new to science.
The most recent discovery, in March, was a flat bark beetle in a pile of cut sedge near Wicken Fen's mill, which had not been found in Britain before.
Stuart Warrington, the trust's wildlife adviser for the East of England, sums up the reserve's philosophy of creating an ideal environment for as many species as possible, by quoting the 1989 Kevin Costner film Field Of Dreams, in which a corn farmer builds a baseball diamond in his fields.
“If you build it, they will come,” said Mr Warrington.
As part of this, free-roaming Highland cows and konik ponies were introduced in 2001 to spread seeds which they carry in their hooves, mane and coat.
Martin Lester, countryside manager, said fenland once dominated East Anglia but now accounts for less than 1pc of the landscape after much was bought by wealthy investors and drained for farming in the 17th century.
He said villagers who lived off the land, known as Fen Tigers, resisted and vandalised drainage pumps.
The fen survived and later became a draw for Victorian entomologists with their butterfly nets and Cambridge University researchers.
It faced destruction once again during the Second World War with plans to use it as a bombing range, but was spared when it was found that a plant found there could be used to make time fuses, Mr Lester said.
Alder buckthorn, when burned, produces charcoal with a very even burn rate.
Wicken Fen, a two-acre piece of land when bought by the National Trust in 1899, now stands at almost 2,000 acres and the trust wants to expand it further to 13,000 acres.
Several species including cranes, Norfolk hawkers and otters, have returned to the landscape after an absence of several decades, and it is home to 188 endangered species including the cuckoo, great crested newt and soprano pipistrelle bat.
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