'Historic' moment as Great Fen project completes land purchase


The Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs and Northants (WTBCN) has launched its new Peatland Progress initiative thanks to generous funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Officially launched on Friday [23 June], Peatland Progress aims to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss, as well as helping people get closer to nature and improve their health and wellbeing.

This visionary partnership project led by the Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs and Northants (WTBCN) was awarded more than £8 million earlier this year by The National Lottery Heritage Fund Heritage Horizon programme.

Speechly's Farm will be returned from intensively managed agricultural fields to re-wetted fenland (Wildlife Trusts).

The purchase of Speechly's Farm in Cambridgeshire, which will unite the Great Fen reserves of Woodwalton Fen and Holme Fen to create a much larger, joined-up landscape, is a key part of the initiative.

In this 120-ha area, Peatland Progress will expand a new model of agricultural production, wet farming - or paludiculture - with crops such as typha bulrush and sphagnum moss, building on successful three year trials. Typha has many applications including lightweight insulation and filling for clothing, while sphagnum is a growing medium capable of retaining 20 times its dry weight in water. This work will inform and inspire both conservation and farming practice on peat soils across the UK and further afield, with the new wet landscape preventing the loss of peat soils and locking in carbon dioxide.

Work has started to bring together scientists, academics, business people and land managers to explore the possibilities of this new farming system and its new crops. Partnerships include experts in wet farming at the University of East London, and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, world leaders in climate-change science, measuring greenhouse gases and gathering data to explore and demonstrate how wet farming locks in carbon dioxide.

A new people-friendly landscape will be created in the centre of the Great Fen enabling people to experience nature in close-up. Links are also being made with local community-based groups such as the Young People's Counselling Service (YPCS) in Yaxley, to create nature-based interventions and programmes supporting young people experiencing mental health issues and their families, giving them the confidence to know that small changes can make a big difference, bringing hope for the future.

Kate Carver, Great Fen Project Manager, explained: "Peatland Progress will enable us to build on our successes, to grasp a unique opportunity to connect two iconic wetland reserves, and to elevate our activity to new levels - through farming innovations, research, and through a deeper connection with established and new audiences. This will raise the Great Fen from being a landscape transforming access to wildlife in the local area, to a forward-looking place which impacts on, inspires and brings genuine improvement to the lives of people and protects the very character and local heritage of a region. Many thanks to players of the National Lottery."

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, added: "The acquisition of Speechly's Farm marks a historic moment in the history of The Wildlife Trusts and the Great Fen. Woodwalton Fen, our very first reserve acquired in 1919, can now be reunited with Holme Fen via a continuous swathe of natural re-wetted fenland. Home to rare species such as Marsh Dock, Western Marsh Harrier and Scarce Chaser dragonfly, the potential to restore even more nature to this special place is immense. By reconnecting these vital wetland habitats for wildlife, we hope many more people will be able to experience and enjoy this precious landscape."

Find out more at www.greatfen.org.uk.