RSPB Ouse Fen nature reserve has opened its brand-new visitor facilities. These will enable the public to visit the latest restored areas of this vast wildlife-rich wetland. Together with their project partners, Hanson UK, the RSPB are creating the UK’s biggest reedbed right here in Cambridgeshire, transforming a huge aggregates quarry into a blossoming nature reserve.
Ouse Fen invites visitors to come and enjoy the newly expanded wildlife haven. Take a walk along winding paths lined with wildflowers. Then gaze over swaying reeds for a chance to spot the wildlife that calls the reserve home.
This summer, visitors can spot a fantastic array of wildlife from the reserve trails, from dazzling dragonflies hovering over pools to impressive marsh harriers flying overhead. What’s more, keen eyes may also spot water voles and otters at the water’s edge. Or even an elusive bittern, whose distinctive ‘boom’ from the reedbed has become a regular highlight here in recent years.
Accessible entrance and new trails
Accessible throughout daylight hours, the new entrance provides a short access-for-all path to a viewpoint and picnic area. And there are onward routes to two new trails and connections to long-distance public rights of way. With many trails to choose from, everyone from families and wildlife enthusiasts to hikers and walkers can enjoy the reserve.
Talking of the new additions to the reserve, Jonathan Taylor, Senior Project Manager at the RSPB said:
‘We’re excited to be opening new visitor facilities here at the reserve as part of our 30-year partnership project with Hanson UK. We’re hopeful that in opening our new entrance and trails, more people can enjoy easy access to some time in nature, after it has given us all so much solace in the past year.
We can’t wait to welcome more visitors to see what this wonderful reserve has to offer: tranquil walks, awe-inspiring wildlife, and some great views across the fens to admire while enjoying a picnic.’
A partnership bringing industry and conservation together
The project is the largest nature conservation restoration scheme following sand and gravel extraction in Europe. As a result, RSPB Ouse Fen will become an expansive mosaic of wildlife-rich wetland habitat which will be over 980 football pitches in size (700ha) by 2030. When complete, it will include the UK’s biggest reedbed, recreating some of the lost wetland habitat that once dominated the entire Fenland landscape.
Speaking of the project, Hanson UK Unit Manager, Hilton Law, said:
‘We’re proud to be a part of this important project with the RSPB to create thriving new habitat for wildlife. With the project being the largest of its kind in Europe, it’s great to see the new entrance opening to allow visitors to enjoy the site as much as we have enjoyed working with the RSPB to create it.’
Over the lifetime of the project, Hanson will extract over 28 million tonnes of sand and gravel at Needingworth Quarry. As quarrying is finished, Hanson will restore the land to wildlife-rich wetland habitat. They will then hand it over to the RSPB to be managed for and enjoyed by wildlife and people alike.
Why is Ouse Fen Nature Reserve so important?
Where the River Great Ouse spills into the Cambridgeshire Fens, the UK’s biggest reedbed is coming to life. The swaying reedbeds are home to marsh harriers, bearded tits, otters and the secretive bittern. A visit at dawn or dusk may reveal a barn owl hunting over the grassland and scrubby margins. Ducks, grebes, swans and wading birds gather on the floodplain wetlands from autumn through to the spring.
Reedbed is now an extremely rare habitat in the UK, much of which has been lost. It is home to the rare bittern that can be heard ‘booming’ at sunrise in springtime, looking for a mate. 2007 was the first year a bittern was sighted on the reserve and numbers have grown in strength ever since. So far this year, the volunteer surveys have shown there to be around 10-11 boomers at Ouse Fen. This makes it a nationally important population of bitterns.
Where to find RSPB Ouse Fen
RSPB Ouse Fen lies between the Cambridgeshire villages of Earith, Bluntisham, Needingworth, Over and Willingham.
The new entrance is accessible from the B1050, just 10 minutes from St Ives and only 30 minutes from the centre of Cambridge. Find it by searching wacky.dabbling.enjoy on the what3words app. Entry to and use of the reserve is free.
To find out more about the reserve, its ongoing expansion, and how to make the most of your visit, visit rspb.org.uk/ousefen
Words by Becca Smith, RSPB England Communications Officer