Monday, 21 July 2014

Cambridgeshire: Ouse Fen wetland taking shape

An early morning excursion into the fens just north of Cambridge to see how RSPB's Ouse Fen project is going.   Most of the project area is an active sand and gravel quarry operated by Hanson. Some parts of the quarry are now fully restored, full of exciting wildlife, and accessible to the public. It is still early days, but the potential of this site is enormous.
Walking in along a track from the village of Over, I pass cereal fields then spot cattle grazing the banks that surround the new wetlands.  Soon I'm looking across a landscape of pools, reed beds and grassy hillocks.  Common terns are hawking over the pools looking for insect prey as well as small fish.
Green woodpeckers are also much in evidence, the new grasslands no doubt creating good habitat for ants, their favoured food.  I follow a trail that winds through the reed beds before leading out to a viewpoint. Soon I'm hearing the pinging call of bearded tits from several spots and I catch some fleeting glimpses.  A bittern flights across on heavy wings, back and forth to a favoured patch of reeds.
 A male marsh harrier hunts quite close to the path then, with prey in talons, drops down into the reeds, presumably to feed chicks.
Reed buntings are busy gathering food so I stop only briefly to capture a portrait of the female with a beakful of spiders.  Perched attractively on dying flower stems of hogweed, this scene is a reminder that the summer is progressing
Twenty years ago I lived in Cambridgeshire and it is fantastic to see how much more habitat has been created for wildlife in the fens since then.  Really big projects like this one at Ouse Fen, as well as those at Wicken Fen (National Trust), The Great Fen (Wildlife Trusts) and Lakenheath Fen (RSPB) are transforming the county into one of our very best for wetland nature with charismatic species like the bittern, crane and bearded tit.

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