We started at Upware, walked up the Fen Rivers Way for a kilometre or so before heading east along a footpath which took us across the top of Wicken Fen.
Agricultural buildings on Spinney Drove north of Wicken Fen (photo by Beth)
Then we worked our way around the Fen heading back alongside Wicken Lode and Reach Lode to Upware. You can find a GPS track of our route here. It's not a bad little walk, about five miles in all and pretty much all off road other than a very short section in Upware.
When we got back I looked up Wicken Fen as although we've lived just south of it for fifteen years I didn't know much about it. And it's a bit of a sorry tale to be honest. Even the National Trust's own history of the Fen reveals that between them and the War Office they made a bit of a mess of it.
They were handed the Fen in around 1890 when the previous use of the Fen: the harvesting of sedge (used for roofing and animal bedding) and peat (a fuel), ceased for economic reasons leaving the habitat under threat.
Rather than managing it to maintain it as it was they seem to have just left it, with only a single warden to keep an eye on it. The consequence of this is that 70% of Sedge, Verrall's and St Edmunds Fens (parts of the Wicken Fen area) ended up covered in scrub - when they were donated they were practically all open sedge/fen meadow communities.
A worse fate became Adventurer's Fen which lies between Reach and Burwell Lode. It was partially drained in the 1840s but this was not very successful and as a result by the end of the 1800s it consisted of rich Fen habitats and extensive areas of peat cuttings. It was very rich in wildlife being renowned particularly for its bird and beetle communities. However in the Second World War the War Office, desperate for more land, requisitioned it and drained it as agricultural land so it was lost.
The story since has been a battle to try and get some of it back to its earlier state again, with the added problem that the intensive agriculture around the Fen means that the rain the catchment area is all used by the farmers to irrigate their crops.
I hope you enjoyed your walk. All of the Wardens who manage it unfortunately cannot live on the beautiful fresh air that you enjoyed. The £5.99 would have gone towards their wages (which are not extreme, you don't do this job for the money, you do it for the love). Was it really that much to pay towards the conservation of the area that you walked around?
We planned that walk on the basis of distance, not price. I only mentioned the price because we were frankly surprised as we passed the entry gate when we saw how expensive it was to get into the Fen. When I compare it to Wandlebury and the Magog Downs say which is similar sort of acreage and where we just have to pay something like £2 to park (and it's free if you're on foot or bike) £12 seems a tad steep when you're just out for a walk with the dogs ...