Friday, 18 April 2014

Getting ready for Easter, the Sedge Fen is still wet and we check ourowl boxes

Hello, John here. It has been a long time since I posted, Maddie has been doing a fine job. 

With it being the Easter and the bank holiday weekend we have been working to make sure that as much of the fen is accessible as possible and that everything is looking presentable. We have been working hard to get the paths mowed, the picnic areas cut and stimmed, bird hides in best of order and plant and butterfly boards out. We have also been working very had as we are expecting more calves and foals, fixing miles of fences, building duck boards and many other bits and bobs.
View from East Mere hide last week.  

Nature Trail
We are still waiting to open the Nature Trail in its entirety. Currently it is not a full loop, as part of it is too wet. It is open to all the hides though, and you can see a great deal of the Sedge Fen. We are just waiting for Mitchell's drove to get dry enough to take people walking without being damaged. Now it is important to remember that a fen should be wet! Especially in the winter, drying out as the summer warms up and the water table steadily dropping before rising again in late autumn. This process is key to the fens delicate ecosystem. It can however make our job of managing it tricky, as we can't always get tools and machinery, however light and in certain ceases even people on foot to were we need to work. 

Mitchell's drove is for the most part in fine nick, and dry enough to use, but there are a few wet areas near its start and finish. Wicken's Sedge Fen is covered in old peat diggings that run roughly at right angles to Wicken Lode across the fen and occasionally across Mitchell's Drove. These old diggings create low points which hold water for longer and are doing so at present. We have been busy building new lightweight portable duck boards to bridge the gaps. The old ones have been causing us problems as they have been blocking the light getting to the plants and creating muddy areas. As shown on a different area in the picture below. These muddy areas can take several years to recover. We have been working very hard to make a new batch of small light duck boards that can be put out over wet areas for short periods and then removed to allow the plants to continue to grow.  At present we have been using sections of old boardwalk which are very heavy and hard to move. Many thanks to Ridgeons for helping us with the timber.

Damage from old boardwalk

New sections in place. 

Checking Our Owl Boxes
Me and Maddie went out with Neil, one of the most experienced bird ringers at Wicken to check the owl boxes around the reserve. Some great finds, and brilliant to see the boxes in use, if not all by owls. I'm really pleased, especially as some had been out for a short time.

Old Bee's Nest 
We found this amazing old bees nest yesterday, it is on the way to the Butterfly Trail if you fancy a look.

Other Bits and Bobs
Ruby took this fantastic pic of a young dear, here is a list of the migrant birds we have been spotting and are expecting soon and the swans are nesting near the Visitor Centre Again. It isn't Wicken related but I really like the long horn cattle grazing on Coldham's Common next to Cambridge United's Abbey Stadium, so a couple of pics of them too.

Have a great Easter and as usual you can keep I touch on twitter: @wickenfennt and @vision_warden

Friday, 11 April 2014

Here come the foals!

I feel like my Ranger life hasn't been hugely exciting this week, I've either been in meetings or doing fencing on Tubney Fen. The fencing is coming along nicely though, and we managed to hang most of the gates and I've been out this morning with Jason, one of our fencing contractors, pushing in lots and lots of fence posts. I must have walked over 3 miles around Tubney, which is why I'm having a rest doing office work this afternoon! The good thing about being out on Tubney so much is that I'm getting to see all the summer wildlife that's starting to appear. We've seen lots of butterflies, Brimstones, Tortoiseshells and Peacocks, lots of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits and Tufted Ducks on the mere. On the Mere there have also been a pair of Oystercatchers spotted and there is a Canada Goose nesting right in front of the hide.

The best gate I have managed to put up this week

Front of house maintanence has started, with John and Andy strimming and hedge trimming everywhere! Ruby has also been repainting the boardwalk signs, and herself. Its all looking lovely ready for the tons of visitors that have turned up with the combination of the Easter Holidays and good weather.

We have also appointed a new long term volunteer, congratulations Luke!

There have been two new foals on the fen last weekend, Sky and Gracie have had a boy and a girl respectively. And hot off the press, Nanja has foaled today!

Gracie with her new little one

Sky with her first ever foal!

Friday, 4 April 2014

More fencing, exciting tractors and bugs

The Ranger team have been getting all excited over new tools and machinery this week. We finally got to use all of our new fencing tools, strainers and crimps earlier this week. Once we had all the chains and hooks figured out it made the job so much easier and quicker. We manged to get the wire so taut we could get a nice note from it when we plucked it!
Andy and I using the new stock netting strainers. 

We have also had a contractor in mowing the Reach Lode bank at Burwell Fen. John and Ruby have been telling me all about his tractor ever since. To have a look go to John's twitter account at:

There have been interviews for our long term volunteer placements this week, both with the countryside and the grazing sections of the ranger team. It's been great to meet so many enthusiastic people with a real passion for conservation and the outdoors. We've got some tricky decisions to make now. While we were walking one candidate around the boardwalk we came across this little fella, who I am informed will be a drinker moth:
A drinker moth caterpilla found enjoying the warmth of the boardwalk.

And finally, if you haven't already seen the insect hotel Lois and I helped the students to build at Waterbeach School as part of their Science week, go to the Anglesey and Wicken Community blog at: It ispossibly the best one we've ever built. It has a chimney.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Rose Cottage Lean To

It's been a while since it was first mentioned, but now that Rose Cottages lean to has been constructed I thought I'd share the process in photographs from the original to the end for all to see.

Benchmark contractors were the guys that we contracted into build the lean to, and I'm personally really pleased with the build. It even has a radiator in it to keep your boots warm in winter!

After the previous lean to was in disrepair (not even attached to the floor anymore and the door wouldn't shut!) it was decided that a new, bigger lean to needed to be built.

It took less than an hour to take down the old lean to, but thankfully a lot longer to build the new one!

Friday, 21 March 2014

Tractor Training

Niki, Carol, John and I spent three days this week doing a LANTRA Tractor Driving Course. It was very interesting and useful learning all the best and easiest ways to drive our tractors. For our assessment we had to hitch up a reverse a trailer, attach the grab to the front and move a large tree stump, and attach the mower and mow some stuff. I am pleased to say that we all passed, and (if I say so myself) passed well.

Niki hitching up the trailer for her assessment.

While we were play with tractors, Lois took Andy and our work experience placement out to the wider nature reserve to put new interpretation signs out. We all trying to update all the signs around the fen to give visitors up to date and relevant info about the wildlife and the landscape.

Putting my new tractor skills to good use, I have spent the past two days mowing the paths along the Lodes Way. I had a few interested parties watching me, including a Little Grebe on Burwell Fen, lots of Roe Deer next to Guinea Hall and the Koniks on Guinea Hall too. 

The Ponies watching the tractor, including little Swift.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Mowing and Burning

Jack and I have had Buzz the ride on mower out in compartment 22, the field behind the Visitor's Centre. We have been mowing about half of the compartment where there were small tree saplings have been popping up. There was a clear line where the peat soil changed to clay, as the peat soil was too wet to sustain the trees. This made a good clear line for us to pinpoint where to stop our mowing.
You can just about make out the line where I had been mowing.
John and I went on a tour of the wider nature reserve on Tuesday, planning out what needs mowing over the summer and what needs mowing ready for spring to really begin. I now have a lot of time in a tractor looming ahead of me.

For the rest of the week, we have been continuing to tidy the fire site. We've managed to get some nice big, but controlled fires going burning the old brash we've had stacked there for a while. We also pollarded some willows along the edge of the fire site and added them to the fire. Unfortunately we never managed to remember to take a packet of marshmallows with us, but we always enjoy having a good fire.

We managed to get a good amount of heat coming from the middle of the fire.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Spring is here, so lets get ready for Summer!

When I started writing this week's blog I didn't feel like I had a lot to tell you, but now I've written a list of what we've been up to this week I realise we have actually been really busy. With the nice weather settling in we are starting to gear up for the summer, trying to get things ready and organised for when everything starts growing.

The Ranger and Education teams have been looking at the Education Area, writing a wish list of everything we want there, and what needs fixing. We are now going to work out what is affordable and manageable before cracking on with the work before the summer school groups start visiting.

Next to the ed area, we have started to tidy and organise our fire site. We've had a new very large shelter built there to protect some of the old equipment and spare fence supplies, so Ruby has made a plan for where everything is going. We are now freeing all of the piles of stuff from the overgrowth and moving it to where Ruby points to. It sounds like a really dull task but we have kept a lot of old equipment and signs, and generally anything that has ever been used on the Fen so its like a going back through the history of the Fen!

A fancy panroramic photo of our fire site before we have organised it.
We've been getting on with making the new duckboards that will go around the site next winter. It may seem like we're making them very early but we want to be able to drive them out on site in the summer when the ground is dry. We have enough materials to make 75 and we have now made 16, with Mike making more as I type. Mike has made a fantastic jig so that you just place the pieces of wood in the slots and screw them together. It makes the job so much quicker and easier.
Andy, Anita and me making duckboards

Other little jobs we've been up to are, finishing the cutting of Butterfly Trail, checking out some of the windblown trees in Gutterbridge and more fencing work on Tubney Fen.

This afternoon Lois and I are heading out to the freshly mown Harrison's Drove car park to install some new benches. So we will have a nice new base for people to be able to explore the wider Nature Reserve.