The region has many rare ecosystems as a result of the locale being subjected to marsh like conditions. Around the coasts these areas were often salt-like in nature, as a result of their closeness to the sea and inland the waterlogged areas were more fresh water in nature.
In the past, much of East Anglia had been marsh with the Broads and the Fens being particularly susceptible to flooding. However, as soon as people realized that this marshland, after being drained, produced productive agricultural land, great areas were relieved of its moisture through a system of drains that has produced some of the richest arable land in the country.
The attempt to rid the Fens of its natural vegetation was so successful that there were genuine fears that these natural environments were going to be lost forever, along with many different species of both flora and fauna. The Great Fen project has been introduced to 3700 hectares of land just to the north of Cambridge. The flood defenses have been removed and now the hope is that the land will be seasonally exposed to flooding.
The region of the Fens is the lowest land that is found in the United Kingdom. Before land reclamation, water was carried by local rivers into the Wash, but many of them broke their banks and the water flooded the surrounding area. The idea of the Great Fen Project is to reverse what man has created in terms of stopping the flooding, so that the land can return to its natural habitat. There are certain areas that managed to survive man’s interference and this project has tried aim to join the two areas, Woodwalton Fen and Holme Fen. During the period when the rest of the land became drained for farming purposes, these two areas remained as they were.
As more and more land is being purchased by the project, the natural ecosystems of the two remaining natural areas are growing and spreading into the reclaimed areas. Rare wetland plants such as Golden Dock, Marsh Dock and Water Dropwort are returning to the land. The entire area is dominated by rare fen plants such as fen wood rush and fen violet, and that gives hope about the project.
The return of the natural land has seen birds reappearing, such as Lapwings, Cranes and Avocets, and hopefully many of the 180 species of bird that used to visit the area will once again return. This is especially true of the Corn Bunting whose numbers have declined by 90% over recent years, as its natural habitats have declined. This wetland habitat has also been home to a number of different mammals such as Otters, water voles and Chinese water deer. With the reappearance of the natural drainage dykes, it is hoped that this will see the numbers of these animals increase, as well as the already popular foxes and rabbits that exist in the region.
This project was first started in 2001 with the intention of returning the land into a wetland community dispersed with woodland within fifty years. The progress of the natural vegetation returning gives hope that the natural ecosystem will be restored a great deal quicker than it was planned. If this is the case, then much of the flora and fauna will return to the area recreating the landscape that was dominant before man first started to tamper with it.