Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Fenscapes

We're starting our walk today in the tiny village of Upware. It has a farm called "Far Away Farm" and a pub bearing the name of "Five Miles From Anywhere No Hurry Inn". For a crowded place like Cambridgeshire it's about as remote as you can get.


As you've probably worked out from the title we're in the Fens, that flat, low-lying area in the north of the county which was once mostly under water. And, as you can see from the photo, small parts of it still are. This is Cam Washes - and "washes" is the local name for riverside land left to flood and absorb any excess water.


Another regional term is "lode" and that's Reach Lode above. It's a straight, man-made canal, which may date from Roman times, that's been cut to allow boats to travel to the village and one-time inland port of Reach, as well as drain the surrounding fields. Nowadays it's only used by leisure craft and it's this trade that keeps the riverside pubs in business during the summer. The water is controlled by sluices and locks.


Many of the lodes have paths or tracks running alongside which make good, flat, though sometimes muddy, walking routes. This is Wicken Lode which branches off from Reach Lode and leads up towards Wicken Sedge Fen.


The fen just to the south of Wicken is unique in that it was never drained for agriculture, but was used by the villagers to cut sedge (for thatching) and dig peat (for fuel). Its special qualities have long been realised by biologists from Cambridge University who came to investigate. A young Charles Darwin ventured here collecting beetles, for example.


When sedge cutting and peat-digging ceased, the entomologist Charles Rothschild bought part of the ancient fen and gave it to the National Trust who have managed it as a nature reserve ever since. That crazy building in the above photo is actually a bird-watching hide that gives views out over much of the modern reserve.

                                                
And it was birds that I was looking out for too and today's star performer was a beautiful, silver-grey male Hen Harrier that drifted effortlessly over the fen hunting for his lunch. I'll add a complete list of birds seen at the end of the post.


Since 1999 the National Trust as been engaged in an ambitious plan to re-create a huge area of wetland habitat by snapping up any arable land that comes up for sale and "re-wilding" it. The fens are slowly becoming less and less viable as agricultural land anyway; the fertile peat has shrunk as it's dried out which has resulted in the level of the fields falling below that of the rivers and therefore becoming more expensive to drain. Even more troubling is that the dry, dusty peat is blowing away in places making the land not only lower but also less fertile.


Agriculture's loss has been nature's gain however and many birds are re-establishing themselves here including Short-Eared Owls which hunt here in winter (though I didn't see any). This ever-increasing wetland area is maintained by hard-working teams of Highland Cattle and Konik Ponies which graze the land throughout the year. I saw both on my walk but rather too distant to successfully photograph. 


Though I did see this cute trio observing me as I walked through a farmyard.


This is Cockup Bridge which allows farm vehicles to cross Burwell Lode.


And so we make our way back to Upware to complete a circular walk of around six miles.

Birds seen: Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, Wigeon, Teal, Snipe, Egyptian Goose, Rook, Carrion Crow, Magpie, Jackdaw, Blackbird, Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon, Black-Headed Gull, Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Cormorant, Little Grebe, Blue Tit, Robin, Grey Heron, Mallard, Gadwall, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Starling, Stonechat, Reed Bunting, Pied Wagtail, Chaffinch, Red Legged Partridge, Little Egret, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Pheasant, Kestrel, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Lapwing. 


Take care.



29 comments:

  1. Such a glorious place for a stroll. I fear it would take me days to cover that distance with such birds and natural beauty. Thank you for sharing!

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  2. "That crazy building in the above photo is actually a bird-watching hide..."

    I wonder if this has ever actually fooled the birds! ;-)

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  3. As always, I enjoyed your walk vicariously...but I missed the birds. It's ok, that wonderful big sky reminded me of my youth living in flat places.

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  4. I can only imagine what the fens must have looked like before anthropogenic modification. It must have been teeming with wildlife. But, you notched a pretty good bird list on your walk. Well done.

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    1. It was indeed, David, the fenmen could easily make a living from wildfowling and fishing before the Fens were drained and waged quite a campaign to prevent drainage taking place. Various schemes exist so that by the end of this century some 50 square miles will be back to something like its original state. That leaves just 1,450 square miles to go!

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  5. What an interesting and beautiful place to walk. I like trying to imagine what it might be like to walk where Charles Darwin once walked.

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    1. I only have to go to Cambridge's Botanic Garden for that. It was designed by Darwin's friend and mentor John Stevens Henslow and in his undergraduate days Darwin was known as "the man who walks with Henslow".

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  6. Wonderful nostalgic views of fenland John - I was born and brought up in the fens of Lincolnshire and used to go to Burwell to see my friend's dads boss in the summer. He lived at Burwell Manor - wonder if it is the same Burwell - somewhere near Newmarket. Incredible bird list too. I am envious.

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  7. Quite a peaceful area to explore.

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  8. The views and the landscape are spectacular, a wonderful place to walk. Thanks for sharing your walk with us.

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  9. That is flat but good to know they are expanding them. I have see some of the flatlands around there when I went to Chatteis (Stainless Metalcraft) to do some work there. I called it Carrot crunching land

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  10. Thanks for the reply about Burwell John. All I remember about the visit is first of all I succumbed to eating two cream cakes and felt very sick and also that somewhere in the garden was a giant mulberry tree. I wonder if it is still there - if so it will be quite ancient because it is about seventy two years since I went!

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  11. Interesting look at the old waterways in your country. Good that some of this land is reverting back to wildlife habitat.

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  12. I love watching harriers. It looks a great place to wander.

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  13. It looks a fascinating area, good birding country too!

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  14. A magnificent view. Great capture.

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  15. This would be a wonderful walk! That was a nice variety of birds to see...I would have enjoyed seeing them.

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  16. Another wonderful walk. Makes me wonder whether I should brave the flight one more time but then there is the getting around U.K. to factor in. Perhaps I am best to just enjoy your photos and those of other bloggers.

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  17. I saw a tv programme about the Konik Ponies a few years ago, and seem to recall that they were introduced from Poland. A really lovely collection of winter photos to enjoy.
    As an aside I have family connections to Charles Darwin, and own what my grandmother told me was the Darwin tobacco jar. It is covered in snakes, reptiles, beetles, moths etc. People either love it or hate it.

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  18. This would be my husband's idea of the perfect walk John.. such a diversity of birdlife enjoying this wetland area. Love the look of the bird-hide. Your post has made me keen to get out into nature again, it's been a while 😊

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  19. That is a very nice thatch-roof bird blind. You have a nice list of birds seen, too. Such pretty blue skies reflected in the canals.

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  20. So very flat! And yet there is an unusual beauty there. I try to imagine it as it once was--and am glad to know at least a small portion is being returned to something like its former state. One of my favorite stories is the one about the drowned moon in the fens. Eerie.

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  21. Some interesting scenes John, especially for those that don't know of the Fens.
    Come the Global Warming, Peterborough will be a coastal city.:))

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  22. A beautiful walk and an impressive list of birds! It's great to hear the wetland habitat is making a comeback.

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  23. Thanks for the walk through the fens. Good to hear that some lands are being allowed to return to natural areas.

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  24. So beautiful! Thanks for the bird list.

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  25. Not a bad species list! This was interesting to read and I enjoyed the photos too :)

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  26. A splendid post to read! A great variety of bird species seen and interesting images to boot! Love the bird hide!!!

    Thank you for sharing your walk John!

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