British Wildlife: Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve

  • Published
  • By Judith Wakelam
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Wicken Fen is one the oldest National Nature Reserves in Britain and one of the most important in Europe. It is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and was the first nature reserve to be bought in 1899 by the National Trust - an organization dedicated to protecting Britain's Special Places.

Situated close to the Cambridgeshire - Suffolk border it is but a short drive from RAF Mildenhall and is open to the public daily all year round. 

Wicken is one of the few remaining pieces of pristine Sedge Fen left in the country and is a haven for numerous rare plants and insects and home to a host of mammals and birds. 

Sedge, used for thatching is still harvested in summer in much the same way as it has been for hundreds of years. There are several examples of thatched cottages and a thatched Pub to be seen in the village of Wicken.

Visitors come from all over the world to study the flora and fauna of this Fenland gem but you don't have to be an expert to enjoy a visit, it has something to interest the whole family - young or old, expert or amateur.

The visitors' center has information and guides about the reserve's history and inhabitants - there's also a cafeteria. Part of the reserve has a boardwalk, and there are various marked walking trails. Near the visitors' center can be seen the only example of a working wooden windpump remaining in the Fens. No longer used to drain the Fen it is still used to pump water onto the Sedge Fen.

Unfortunately when wet, it can be extremely muddy and at certain times of the year is visited by large numbers of mosquitos. It's a good idea to pop an insect repellent in your pocket. But, on a warm sunny day there are few places nicer to enjoy a stroll. 

For bird-watchers there are several hides dotted around the reserve including the Tower Hide from which you can enjoy wonderful views of the Mere with its herons, assorted ducks and geese and roosting cormorants. Marsh harriers and barn owls are often seen along with many other bird species.

During the course of the year there are various activities. If you would rather enjoy your day out with an expert to tell you about the Fen then you can sometimes book a place on an accompanied walk or boat-trip. Occasionally there are pond-dipping days for children, where they can learn about the inhabitants of Wicken's crystal clear waterways or lodes as they are locally known.

Wicken is also home to rare Konik ponies' direct descendents of the now extinct Tarpan. Originating from Poland these hardy ponies brought in to graze the Fen have adapted well and successfully bred. Foals can often be seen in the spring and the herd now numbers 39 individuals. Their grazing is beneficial to the reserve and they are ideally suited to the wetland habitat. Also grazing on the reserve are several hardy Highland cattle of various colors equally suited to the conditions.

I'm a regular visitor to Wicken Fen as it has a lot to offer at anytime of the year but spring and summer are particularly beautiful with an abundance of dragonflies, butterflies and wild flowers and all almost on my doorstep.

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