Sunday, April 23, 2017

Wicken Fen windmill at sunset

National Trust Wicken Fen wind pump under pastel clouds at sunset

I recently took a little trip to Wicken Fen for a spot of sunset photography, with a view to getting some shots of the iconic wind pump that stands proud amongst this wetland landscape.

The Wicken Fen nature reserve is Britain's oldest nature reserve and is one of Europe's most important wetlands, home to over 9000 recorded species including many rare plants, birds and dragonflies. It was the first reserve cared for by the National Trust, starting in 1899. It includes fenland, farmland, marsh, and reedbeds, and is one of only four wild fens which still survive in the enormous Great Fen Basin area of East Anglia, where 99.9% of the former fens have now been replaced by arable cultivation.

Wooden wind pump at Wicken Fen Nature Reserve in the East Anglian Fens
Wispy clouds above the 100 year old wind pump, that is still in use during the summer months.

The present appearance of Wicken Fen is the result of centuries of management by human beings. Many of the practices now undertaken have changed little since medieval times. In surrounding areas, the landscape has changed so completely that it is almost impossible to imagine how it must once have all looked. Only a very few places survive where it is possible to experience this primitive landscape first hand; Wicken Fen is one of these.

Dusk over the windmill at Wicken Fen Nature Reserve
The wind pump is reflected in one of the drainage channels.

For example, the sedge plant is still harvested every year and sold for thatching roofs. The first recorded sedge harvest at Wicken was in 1414, and ever since then, sedge has been regularly cut. 

The Fen has been long associated with natural history. Charles Darwin collected beetles on the site in the 1820s. Many eminent Victorian naturalists collected beetles, moths and butterflies at Wicken Fen, and some of their collections can still be found in major museums. 

Sunset colours over the wind pump at Wicken Fen Nature Reserve
A piece of history sits among the ancient fenland.

Wicken Fen features the last surviving wooden windpump in the Fens. It is a small smock wind pump, which was probably built about 1912 at Adventurers' Fen for land drainage. The pump was moved to its present site and restored in 1956 by the National Trust. The Windpump now pumps water from the drainage channel up into the Fen to maintain a high water table.

Wooden windmill at Wicken Fen at dusk in the East Anglian Fens
This part of the nature reserve can be explored via a boardwalk created from recycled plastic.

Sedge Fen at Wicken Fen Nature Reserve at sunset
Looking over the ancient Sedge Fen, very much a view into the past, as the sun starts to set.

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