Cambridgeshire

Britain’s first modern nature reserve?

Woodwalton Fen is possibly Britain’s first modern nature reserve. Established in 1912 this precious patch of wetland had become an isolated island of ancient wetland in a sea of intensive farming. Before being drained, the land was purchased by a wealthy conservationist Charles Rothschild and protected for its wildlife. It today forms part of the remarkable Great Fen Project.

Cuckoo story

Nick Davis bases his lovely Cuckoo: cheating by nature (2015) a natural history of the bird on the landscape of Wicken Fen, another patch of ancient fenland, some 28 miles from Woodwalton Fen, and The National Trust’s oldest nature reserve.

Wicken Fen is also home to Britain’s first and to my knowledge only dragonfly sanctuary, home to 21 of Britain’s 42 species. The centre hopes to reverse their decline, severely affected by the loss of wetlands, and the use of pesticides and insecticides.

Melissa Harrison visited Wicken Fen her Rain: Four Walks in English Weather  (2016) which I loved.  Review in The Guardian 

‘You’re keen,’ says the man in the Trust’s information centre, cocking an eye at the weather: apart from a couple of diehard birders with their gaiters and monopods it looks as though we’ll have the place to ourselves. Today, he tells us, the fen is full of water, so much of the reserve is a no-go area. The dog quivers with expectation as we talk, keen to get on with the walk now that we’re here: not for her the information boards or gift shop. As for the rain, she couldn’t care less.

The fact that large parts of Wicken Fen are waterlogged is just as it should be, the peat, sedge and reed beds holding on to today’s rainfall rather then letting it pour away to cause flooding elsewhere.

A seal in Cambridgeshire

A seal was spotted in Cambridgeshire 50 miles from the sea in 2010. Read

Bat safari tours by punt

Every summer, the Wildlife Trusts organise these popular Bat Punt Safaris on the River Cam in Cambridge. Wildlife Trust experts demonstrate how to use an ultrasonic bat detector and reveal fascinating facts about the different species out and about on the river.  See also The Guardian 

Bat Safari Punting from Cambridge Punting on Vimeo.

Darwin at Cambridge

“In 1827, Darwin enrolled at Christ’s College, Cambridge University where he studied theology for just over three years. During his time at Cambridge, Darwin continued to enjoy the countryside and spent much time with his cousin, William Fox, who introduced him to beetle collecting. He also became friends with William Paley, who promoted natural theology, and the geologist Adam Sedgwick. In his last two terms Darwin spent much time with the Rev John Henslow, a professor of botany, and became known as ‘the man who walks with Henslow’.”

Helen Macdonald outside Cambridge

Helen Macdonald described a winter landscape outside of Cambridge in her moving H is for Hawk

I feel I might be up there, because now the hill is home. I know it intimately. Every hedgerow, every track through dry grass where the hares cut across field-boundaries, each discarded piece of rusted machinery, every earth and warren and tree. By the road, half an acre of fenced-off mud, scaled with tyre-tracks and water reflecting pieces of sky. Wagtails, pallets, tractors, a broken silo on its side like a fallen rocket stage. Here is the sheep-field, there is the clover ley, now mown and turned to earth. Further up the track are tracts of mugwort: dead now from frost, seeds clinging to stems and branches like a billion musty beads on ragged Christmas trees. Piles of bricks and rubble run along the left-hand side of the track, and the earth between them is soft and full of rabbits. Further up the hill the hedges are higher, and by the time I get to the top the track has narrowed into grass. Cow parsley. Knapweed. Wild burdock. The argillaceous shimmer of tinder-fine clay. Drifts of chalk beneath. Yellowhammers chipping in the hedges. Cumulus rubble. The maritime light of this island, set as it is under a sky mirrored and uplit by sea.