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Celebrating fen’s revival

Twenty-six years ago a news crew from ITV Anglia visited Redgrave & Lopham Fen to report on fears for the site’s future. The fragment of valley fen, whose waters welled up through chalk and peat and supported an incredibly diverse community of wetland plants and wildlife, was in danger of being sucked dry. The future of species such as the fen raft spider, then the only known colony in the UK, was hanging by a thread.

The year after the broadcast took place, Redgrave became a National Nature Reserve and a £3.4million European Union-funded restoration project began. A consortium, led by the Trust and involving Essex & Suffolk Water and the Environment Agency, set about removing a borehole on the reserve, which since 1959 had drained many millions of gallons of precious water from the fen’s aquifer to be used in homes and industry.

Just months after the borehole’s relocation in 1999 to a site some 3km away to the south east, the water levels began to rise. By 2002, the old peat cuttings, the pools and dykes all were full. Redgrave & Lopham Fen, the source of both the River Waveney and the Little Ouse, once more became, as the writer Roger Deakin described it, “a tear duct of the earth”.

But the reserve was by no means out of the woods. Quite literally. While the water and the river may have returned, the years of artificial dryness had taken its toll on the fen. Vast swathes of young woodland and scrub had moved in, while the process of peat formation had to be kick-started again by the removal of the top-layer of dry peat.

This month ITV Anglia, including the same journalist who reported from the reserve 26 years ago, returned to the fen. The restoration is still ongoing, but the changes that have taken place at Redgrave are nothing short of spectacular. Rare plants – sundews, butterworts, marsh fragrant orchids – have all returned with the chalk springs. The scrapes and ponds support stoneworts and the insectivorous bladderworts, water vole and otter are thriving and in the last few years, marsh harrier have begun breeding on the reserve for the first time. And, the fen raft spider, that wild totem of Redgrave & Lopham, is once again doing well.

Of course, there is still plenty to do. Conservation is by its nature a continuous process that doesn’t allow time for complacency: there are still threats to the fen in the form of invasive plants and climate change. But, make no mistake, what is happening at Redgrave & Lopham Fen is definitely worth celebrating.

Matt Gaw, Media manager

Suffolk Wildlife Trust would not be able to carry out its work safeguarding the county’s wildlife and wild spaces without the support of its members. To see how you can get involved visit Suffolkwildlife trust.org

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