£1.8m boost to protect Wicken Fen National Trust reserve against climate change

  • ITV News Anglia reporter Sophie Wiggins reports on the National Trust's Wicken Fen restoration project.

An ambitious £1.8m project to restore peat and protect an important 125-year-old nature reserve has begun.

The National Trust work at its Wicken Fen site in Cambridgeshire - home to over 9,000 species of wildlife - is being done to restore 531 acres of peat to preserve it for future generations and capture carbon.

Wicken Fen was the first area of land bought by the conservation charity, in 1899. It was originally two acres but over the years has expanded to more than 2,000 acres - the equivalent of 1,148 football pitches.

The National Trust said that without action, the majority of the remaining peat in the Fens could be lost within 30 years, emitting harmful carbon as it degrades.

Alan Kell, the National Trust's countryside manager at Wicken Fen, said: "Healthy peatlands are massively important as we tackle climate change.

"They store carbon, help to control flooding, reduce the risk of wildfire and drought, act as a natural water filter and provide habitat for rare and unusual plants, birds and insects."

Experts hope the £1.8m restoration project will stop peat from drying out by repairing and putting in clay banks to retain rainwater and managing water tables to create saturated, healthy peat.

Konik ponies on the National Trust's Wicken Fen site in Cambridgeshire. Credit: PA Images

Mr Kell said these changes would help soil "become an effective carbon store" as well as being a "significant benefit" in cooling down the wetland area's microclimate "in the face of ever-increasing temperatures".

"Across the fens, it's estimated that we lose 10 to 15mm of peat a year, which would take 10 to 15 years to generate.

"That's why we've got to act now, to care for the peat we have and the fen habitat it supports which so many species are dependent on.

"Despite now being considered one of the driest areas of the UK, the East Anglian Fens was once a vast wetland covering more than 3,800sq km, larger than Cambridgeshire, consisting of deep peat soils, before being widely drained for agriculture in the 17th century.

"Since the first hectare of land was acquired back in 1899, we have been actively protecting the site by reversing historic drainage and re-wetting the peat soils to extend the area of fen and the biodiversity it supports," he added.

Wicken Fen is home to including 2,072 species of flies, 1,775 species of beetles and 1,252 species of moths.

There are also hopes the National Trust can buy more land near the Cambridgeshire reserve to create a "bigger, better, more joined up landscape".

Money for the restoration project has come from fundraising, donations and a grant of more than £1.3m from Natural England.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know