A Walk On The Wash Side

We (Myself, Jono and Abby) took ourselves out for a few hours to see (and lunch at!) a major reserve, WWT Welney Reserve, that is within the OWLP area and on the Ouse Washes to experience part of what we are promoting…

We were not disappointed! We thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. It is a direct experience on the washes itself that is only possible during the summer because in the winter it is flooded and flocked with birds.

LogosWe hadn’t even got out of the car park – with its good samples of their wetland wilderness – before we coincidently bumped into and chatted to Carolyn Ash, who is one of the artists working on the Ouse Community Murals Project as part of the OWLP scheme, and Carolyn was also with a colleague from Arts Development in East Cambridgeshire which is a key partner in the Partnership. We were also lucky to see a beautiful example of Carolyn’s large damselfly mural. After crossing a sustainably-made bridge and pond, we entered the airy building that afforded fantastic views of the landscape beyond and met a few of the friendly WWT staff team.

Carolyn Ash is working on the Ouse Community Murals Project

Carolyn Ash is working on the Ouse Community Murals Project

As we crossed the large foot-bridge we saw the introductory interpretation for children. There were sizable hides – one barer and more serious and the other family-friendly and informative with fun displays and colourful artwork. The landscape was filled with bodies of water, wildflower and greenery, and featured various species of wading birds and cattle in the distance. The lake itself had interesting banks, and trees dotted the scenery, so the diversity on the land under the large Fenland sky is immense.

As the Welney website says: “Immerse yourself in pathways of wildflowers at the heart of the washes, leaving the stresses of daily life behind. We followed the “Summer walk” route.

As the Welney website says: “Immerse yourself in pathways of wildflowers at the heart of the washes, leaving the stresses of daily life behind.
We followed the “Summer walk” route. Source:  https://ousewasheslps.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/wwtwelneymap.pdf

 

You can download a pdf copy of the Welney map here: WWTWelneyMap

We ventured out on the tracks – the wilderness of medium to tall vegetation and trees surrounded us for the first part. We came across several features of interest – a few tiny, combat-like hides, a vegetation-rich dragonfly pond area (with a table and seating), a popular and well-equipped pond dipping platform, a bird-ringing net structure and sticks with woven ends holding useful information.

It was Charlock!

Wildflowers such as Charlock and Purple Loosestrife were spotted, and the verge was varied into patches of Nettles and Reed. The path soon became a grassy drove populated with Silverweed and an occasional Forget-Me-Not and continued. Great blocks of different species like Reeds dominated our scenery, which was peppered with other species like Water Mint and Meadow Sweet. Butterflies like Gatekeeper

Sunbathing on a leaf

Gatekeeper sunbathing on a leaf

and Red Admiral fluttered past and rested, a possible grass snake slithered past, evidence of mammal browsing persisted and a dragonfly couple mated as we walked and talked.

Love in the air!

Love in the air!

The Summer Walk we took wiggled onto dense, enclosing surroundings that consisted of Reeds, some Sedge and a patch of scrub where a bench is, and the immediate landscape variegated into tall vegetation, water and trees. We reached the loop at the end of the walk, saw the wilderness beyond and around then strolled back as we discussed our work and other things, we took the opportunity to sit in a hide and then on our return to the centre, browsed in the shop which held a wide range of wildlife-related merchandise.

We reluctantly left the centre glorying under a hot sun, having seen a handful of other visitors whilst we were there, and returned to the office more knowledgeable and enthused about our work.

Goodbye lovely wildflowers

Goodbye lovely wildflowers

RSPB Fen Drayton events coming soon

Welcome to the summer!

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Some edited highlights from the ‘RSPB Fen Drayton Events and Activities Summer 2014’ leaflet… download here: Fen Drayton Events 2014 leaflet

Leaflet front

Two events from the Summer programme in late July 2014

Sunday 27th July
Fen Drayton Lakes Family Activity Day, 10am – 4pm
Come and meet the RSPB team here at Fen Drayton Lakes and find out what we are doing to ‘give nature a home’.  Have a go at pond dipping, bug hunting, wildlife bingo or nature art, join one of our wildlife experts on a guided walk around the reserve or use one our wildlife explorer packs and head off on a self guided adventure. Watch a willow weaving demonstration and have a go.

Wednesday 30th July
Family wildlife wander, 10.15 am – 1 pm, adults £4, kids £2 (RSPB members half-price)
Join us for a relaxed walk enjoying the birds, wildlife and flora that Fen Drayton Lakes has to offer. This walk is aimed at families and is an ideal way to introduce the younger members of the family to the wonders of the natural world.

When are we open? Every day, from dawn till dusk!
We currently also have a fully accessible portable toilet in the main car park. The nearest public toilets are at the A14 service stations.

How to come and see us? Motorists can reach the car park (grid ref. TL342700) via the reserve entrance on the minor road between Swavesey and Fen Drayton – follow the brown road signs from either village.

The Cambridgeshire Guided Bus service has a request stop 250m from the car park. Buses run at 10 minute intervals Monday-Saturday, and at frequent intervals on Sundays, between St Ives and Cambridge.

We have cycle racks in Holywell Lake car park.

Every weekend and every Wednesday from 19th July to 21st September there will be staff and volunteers on site from 10am to 4pm. Self guided pond dipping and bug hunting kits are available as well as advice on what to see and where to go on the reserve. Activities will be available on other days please call 07739 921459 for details.
All events start from the main car park unless otherwise stated.

At this time of year the RSPB recommend insect repellent as some of our smaller creatures are hungry!

If you want to hear more from Pete Stroud (who volunteered with the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership last summer) who is summer warden at the RSPB’s Fen Drayton Lakes Reserve check out his latest blogpost

 

Wildlife Safaris at WWT Welney reserve

LogosComing up soon at WWT Welney Wetland Centre: Wetland Safaris!

Put it in your diary already – first one coming up on Easter Bank Holiday, Monday 21 April. For more information and to see what else is on, check the WWT Welney’s website at http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/welney/whats-on/

Safaris at WWT Welney

 

What is special about the OWLP area?

LogosThe OWLP landscape provides extensive wide views and contains huge skies, while being dominated by rivers, drains and ditches that cut across some of the most productive agricultural land in England. This landscape means different things to different people: some can find it featureless and intimidating whereas others find it exhilarating and value its tranquillity and distinctive lifestyles.

Now we have finalised the boundaries for the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme and we have a defined area, the following question may need reconsidering: what is it that makes the OWLP area special?

In a previous post, I have set out what came out of workshops held regarding the unique qualities and ‘specialness’ and ‘distinctiveness’ of the OWLP area. As part of further discussions with our key partners, ongoing research and discussions with local community groups, we have been able to refine this information.

This then also fed into the Landscape Conservation Action Plan, a key document we recently submitted as part of our stage 2 bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund. The below word cloud formed part of our ‘Statement of Significance’ and sums up what we believe makes the OWLP area special:

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Word cloud, summarising what makes the OWLP area special. Created using http://worditout.com

The OWLP landscape is of important for several reasons:

Internationally protected wildlife and wetlands

At 3,000 ha the Great Ouse Wetland network , which lies fully within the OWLP boundary, is one of the most extensive and most important wetland areas in the UK. It comprises of a network of nature reserves, many of which are owned by nature conservation bodies, including the WWT Welney, RSPB Ouse Washes nature, RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes and RSPB Ouse Fen reserves, with further schemes planned including those to be created by the Environment Agency near Sutton and Coveney. Within the heart of this landscape is the Ouse Washes itself, one of the most important areas of lowland wet grassland in Britain.

The expanding network of reserves form a crucial core area in the proposed Fen-wide ecological connectivity network of wetland habitats, crucial for the survival of many rare and endangered flora and fauna species. The restored wetland areas which incorporate a particular high percentage of lowland meadows and reedbeds provide for a tranquillity not easily found elsewhere.

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Fen Drayton Lakes. Image by Sheils Flynn for OWLP scheme.

Rich Archaeology

The OWLP area is of at least national significance for its repository of well-preserved, often waterlogged archaeological and palaeo-environmental remains. The OWLP area contains 18 Scheduled Ancient Monuments, including the well-preserved Earith Civil War Bulwark and several clusters of prehistoric barrows. The area contains especially rich prehistoric and Roman Period archaeology. The abundance of prehistoric remains in the southern part of the OWLP area demonstrate clear evidence for a major prehistoric ceremonial landscape, extending right across the floor of the Great Ouse valley.

Amazing engineering history

This man-made landscape lies largely below sea level demonstrating man’s amazing efforts in drainage engineering, executed here on a grand scale: with its abundant sluices, banks and dykes the whole landscape can be considered as a civil engineering monument. Human intervention regarding its management is as vital today as it was when, in the 17th century, the Ouse Washes in between the Bedford Rivers were created. The survival of the nationally significant Bedford Level Corporation archival collection, curated for by Cambridgeshire Archives, provides us with a unique insight in the historic developments of the drainage schemes in the area.

Unique Experiments

The landscape has also played host to some amazing social, economic and environmental experiments including the Flat Earth Society using the landscape to prove the earth is disc-shaped, the utopian social living experiment at Colony Farm in Manea in the mid-19th century, and the late 20th century hovertrain experimental track.

 

Related posts:

 

Winter Wonderland

Heritage Lottery FundThis time I wanted to share some pretty pictures with you and take this as an opportunity to talk about another habitat creation scheme in the area. Both pictures were taken by a colleague late last week, just before the Ouse Washes area started receiving heaps of snow – with the frost on the trees and on the ground the landscape already looked in the grips of winter.

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These pictures were taken at Mepal Outdoor Centre. Cambridgeshire ACRE has recently taken over the management of this outdoors sports centre and will start running it as a varied and viable business this spring.

Mepal Outdoor Centre is located about a mile west from the Old Bedford River and comes with substantial grounds including a 20 acre lake. Not only is this a great location for the watersports and other outdoors activities on offer, there is also some woodland and the lake attracts a lot of wildlife as well.

In addition, across the road (the A142 between Ely and Chatteris) a large wetland area will be created over the next decades, Block Fen, which will eventually link this site with the Ouse Washes. Following aggregate extraction, part of the Block Fen area will be turned into an important wetland reserve including lakes and lowland wet grassland habitats. See for instance here to understand what is happening at Block Fen.

This will happen in stages over the next half century or so. The eventual results at Block Fen will have a dual function: additional water storage to reduce flood risk, and the creation of lowland wet grassland areas to compensate for the loss of similar habitats within the Ouse Washes itself, giving especially wintering and breeding birds the necessary environment being lost in the Ouse Washes washland due to more frequent unseasonal flooding. See also this previous post for a discussion of similar schemes at the south end of the LPS area. For some pictures of the lakes and wetlands already created at Block Fen, look here.

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Mepal Outdoor Centre: important for wildlife as well

With its convenient location pretty much halfway the extreme ends of the Ouse Washes LPS area, Mepal Outdoor Centre is also likely to play an important role in the delivery phase of the Ouse Washes LPS project. Several of the scheduled projects which will take place in and around the Ouse Washes between 2014 and 2016 will involve the provision of training days for volunteers in land management, biodiversity and archaeology. It is envisaged that many of these training sessions will be held at this centre, where most facilities for this are already in place.

By the way, if you have taken any nice pictures of the Ouse Washes in the snow and are happy for me to share these on this blog, please send them to me.

Fen Drayton: an Oasis of Tranquility

Heritage Lottery FundAfter a meeting with the RSPB at their office in Swavesey late last week, I took the opportunity to explore the southern end of the Ouse Washes LPS area, in and around Fen Drayton lakes.

This is a surprising tranquil area. Besides the numerous birds singing, there really are hardly any background sounds – a very rare and beautiful tranquil place. Tranquility is what sets a great part of the Ouse Washes apart from other landscapes, and can certainly be experienced here.

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Fen Drayton lakes

The Fen Drayton lakes, and nearby Ouse Fen – the former quarries near Needingworth -, both located alongside the river Great Ouse, are managed as nature reserves by the RSPB. Together, they provide for a bewildering variety of lakes, river meadows and other wetland habitats, attracting in particular huge numbers of birds.The Fen Drayton and Ouse Fen nature reserves form key elements in the Great Ouse Wetland Vision, a strategic programme jointly managed by the RSPB, WWT and WTBCN.

Like those in the Ouse Washes washlands further north, the nature reserves here have man-made origins. This is another key feature of the whole of the Ouse Washes LPS: engineered or otherwise man-made structures having become a haven for wildlife.

There will be several projects as part of the delivery phase for the Ouse Washes LPS project which will join up with the strategic Great Ouse Wetland programme: helping with improvements to conservation works, interpretation and access facilities in and around the wetland sites. This will include training volunteers to deliver these projects. I will let you know more about these projects in due course.

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Guided Busway stop in the heart of Fen Drayton, with cycle parking facilities and information shelter

The great access facilities at Fen Drayton mean that this southern end of the Ouse Washes LPS area can function as a prime area for community engagement activities throughout the three years of the delivery phase. The Guided Busway, which runs through Fen Drayton, has a stop in the heart of the reserve, from which several long walks can be made to explore the varied landscape and its wildlife. And with the cycle route (part of Sustrans Route 51) parallel to the guided busroute, a day out here can even be entirely free for people living in Cambridge or St. Ives.

Check out the events programme at Fen Drayton here: amongst others, guided walks and activities for children are held here regularly