This week Wicken Fen launched an appeal to raise £148,000 to build a bridge for nature. The bridge will link areas of the reserve, allowing the herds of Konik ponies and Highland cattle to range over a wider area, creating new habitats for our precious wildlife.
Howard Cooper from the Wicken Fen team talked to us about the appeal, why it’s important and what it will mean for the future…
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire is one of Europe’s most important wetlands, supporting some of Britain’s most declining species.
With your support this appeal will enable us to develop 300 hectares (741 acres) of land into a fenland, which is as rich in wildlife as the ancient part of Wicken Fen. Currently the two areas are separated by a road that the grazing animals can’t cross. We’re literally trying to bridge the gap.
Here at Wicken Fen, Konik ponies and Highland cattle are helping us to manage the landscape naturally and create new habitats for wildlife. The bridge would mean that our ponies and cattle will be able to roam freely over the wider nature reserve.
This means that the seeds carried on the animals’ fur and in their faeces reach the newly accessible fenland, encouraging plants and habitats to flourish. So, they’ll naturally cultivate the grasslands, reed beds and swamplands, enriching biodiversity.
Did you know that over 2,600 viable seeds belonging to 18 plant families were germinated from horse dung samples collected once a month, for a calendar year on Wicken Fen!
Photo credit: Paul Constable
Grazing animals are essential to influence the developing vegetation in this fen landscape.Through their feeding and foraging behaviour, they create different amounts of grazing pressure on different places and on different plants across the restoration land.
Some trees and shrubs may grow, but the grazers keep the landscape open and help the wetland and grassland plants to become established.
The cattle and ponies are the preferred species as, in combination, they offer us the diverse grazing characteristics we are looking for.
The hardiness of the Konik Ponies and Highland Cattle means they are more than capable of withstanding the rigours of a life on the fen throughout the year. These breeds also have temperaments well suited to the presence of people, although they can happily live with minimal human intervention.
The lack of human intrusion in their lives encourages members of the herds to determine where they go, what they do, who they want to be with and what they eat. This has given us the makings of as natural a herd of large grazers as it is possible to get in lowland Britain.
Photo credit: Justin Minns
In addition to grazing, these large animals create other habitats such as well trodden paths through areas of long grass, dusty hollows where they roll, water-filled hoof prints and piles of dung. The animals act as catalysts to introducing new types of flora and fauna to the fen.
The new habitats created by these grazing animals will go onto encourage some of Britain’s most rapidly declining species to flourish, from bitterns to hen harriers and skylarks and water voles to fen violets.
Photo credit: Paul Constable
Will you help us improve this nature reserve to protect the rare and endangered wildlife that depend on it? Find out how you can donate to the Wicken Fen appeal and support our work to build a bridge for nature.