The region to the north of Cambridge was once a vast region of plant-rich fen through which the rivers Ouse and Nene meandered. Over the last 350 years, the Fens have been reduced through drainage to just a few, scattered pockets.
The Fens receive little rainfall, but water from the Midlands and East Anglia filters through the surrounding rocks and collects in this low-lying area. The Fen Display demonstrates the transition in the vegetation from deep open water with waterlilies through reedbed and wet margins to woodland (fen carr) consisting mainly of birches and willows. This range of habitats from deep-water to drier margins supports a rich and varied flora. The visually-dominant plants are swathes of swaying Reed (Phragmites) and Reed Mace (Typha), with vivid splashes of colour coming from Purple Loosestrife and rich fragrance from Meadowsweet. Many Fen specialities are represented including the rare Cambridge Milk Parsley, the Fen Ragwort, thought to have been extinct in nature for over a century until its chance rediscovery in 1972, and the non-stinging Stinging Nettle.
The Fens have been reduced by drainage over the last 350 years to a few pockets supporting the native flora. The main remnant is Wicken Fen between Ely and Newmarket, which makes a great day out from Cambridge.
The National Trust’s Vision for Wicken Fen is a 100-year plan to create a new nature reserve covering around 53 square kilometres between Cambridge and Wicken Fen. Another habitat restoration project, the Great Fen Project, seeks to create a 3,700 hectare wetland between Huntingdon and Peterborough by connecting two existing National Nature Reserves, Holme Fen and Woodwalton Fen.
The Fen Display was renovated in 2003 with major grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Waste Recycling Environmental and with support from Cambridgeshire County Council and Cambridge City Council’s Sustainable City programme.
The Fen Display is managed such that each quadrant of reedbed is cut once every four years. This mimics traditional management techniques.