Day out: Fen Drayton Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire

There is no guarantee of a partridge in a pear tree, but this RSPB reserve is a birdwatchers’ festive paradise

Reeds and lake in winter

Consider all the elements that make up a perfect Boxing Day walk: fresh air, scenery enhanced by winter’s touch, seasonal wildlife, accessible paths and sheltered stops for that quick turkey-sandwich break. All this can be found at Fen Drayton Lakes. There is even a country inn close at hand, where toes and fingers can defrost. This peaceful Cambridgeshire haven is the ultimate place to stretch your legs and walk off the previous day’s excess. 

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Talking of excess, the abundance of birdlife at Fen Drayton is quite remarkable, even for an RSPB site. 2020’s official count was 169 species.  

Water birds
These extravagantly headdressed divers are famous for their spectacular walking-on-water mating displays. The breeding season runs from February through to May/Credit: Getty

Walking at Fen Drayton Nature Reserve

There are three suggested walking routes at Fen Drayton – Holywell Short Trail (one mile), Ferry Lagoon Trail (2.5 miles) and Elney Loop Trail (2.8 miles) – offering visitors the chance to explore the 391 hectares of wetland, grassland and woodland. Pick a path that suits you, or why not combine Elney Loop with Ferry Lagoon, via Drayton Lagoon? At six miles, this will give you ample opportunity to see many of the highlights the reserve has to offer. 

Wildlife at Fen Drayton Nature Reserve

Walking alongside the River Great Ouse also provides you with the chance to pass on some festive cheer to hardy boatpeople out on the water, and maybe even see something truly unusual. In January 2013, a common seal made its way up the then-flooded river into the reserve itself.  

Back on land, the frost-tipped hawthorn hedgerows that line your walk provide refuge for redwings and fieldfares during early winter.

Ferry Lagoon is a prime location for spotting vast flocks of lapwings, black-tailed godwits, swans and geese. Return in a couple of months and you may also witness the extravagant courtship rituals of goldeneye ducks and great crested grebe.

Stop at the viewing shelter on the northern side of Ferry Lagoon for a tea or mulled wine and that sandwich break. Looking across the water you may notice a floating fence around the island on Ferry Mare. It is an anti-predator mechanism designed to protect nesting ground birds from predators such as foxes, and is an example of the evolving conservation efforts applied here.  

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Walk concluded, it is just a short drive over the Ouse to the Old Ferry Boat inn. With humans and dogs greeted with the same hearty welcome, not to mention the seasonal food, it is time to get toasty.