Day out: Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire

Home to more than 9,000 species of plants, birds and butterflies, this watery reserve is not resting on its laurels

Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire

One of Britain’s oldest and most diverse nature reserves, Wicken Fen is made up of woodlands, wet grasslands, marshlands, bogs, meadows and shallow ponds – all of which burst with wildlife.

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At its north-eastern limit, a restored historic windpump towers over the reedbeds, pumping water on to the fens.

Reed beds at Wicken Fen Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire
Reed beds at Wicken Fen Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire
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Pause to absorb the views, which stretch for miles across acres of marshes and wetlands, surrounded by scrub, fen plants and trees, before exploring the reserve on a series of wooden walkways and waterside paths.

Butterfly on branch
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Wildlife corridors

More than 9,000 species have been recorded at Wicken Fen, including rare butterflies, threatened birds such as bitterns and cuckoos, and scarce orchids. Lily pads float on the water, frogs come and go, and you might see water voles, grass snakes and newts. Wigeon, winter thrushes, hen harriers and short-eared owls can be sighted in winter, while reed warblers arrive in April to breed among the reedbeds.

Ponies among the reeds of Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire
Ponies among the reeds of Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire
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The nature reserve is also home to 20 species of butterfly and 22 species of dragonfly and damselfly, including the rare Norfolk hawker and the willow emerald damselfly, a species recorded at Wicken Fen for the first time in 2016. Threatened Eurasian cranes started breeding here in 2019.

If you’d rather not walk, an electric boat (operating from March to October) takes visitors along Wicken Lode, a man-made watercourse where swans breed, fish are abundant and hundreds of dragonflies hover over the water.

Dragonfly
Keep an eye of for hovering dragonflies
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The future of Wicken Fen

Acquired in 1899 and since expanded, Wicken Fen was the first nature reserve to be owned by the National Trust. This vital wetland area is pivotal in an ambitious plan to connect habitats across different landscapes, creating wildlife corridors that will enable multiple species to thrive. The trust has identified 53 square kilometres of land that could form part of the conservation project and have approached landowners about collaborating to manage the land for nature, protecting it against habitat destruction, climate change and intensive farming.

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Wicken Fen has a number of short walks, including the Adventurers’ Trail and the Boardwalk Trail, and miles of tracks around the reserve, as well as a visitor centre and café for hungry hikers.