25 JULY 2015
Yes, it was July, despite the fact that we were all wearing winter gear! The weather did clear but the East Anglian ‘lazy wind’ stayed for the whole visit. (According to my Norfolk grandfather, ‘Tha’s lazy ‘cause it don’t go round you. It just go through you.’) Nevertheless there were breaks from the wind in the lee of the embankments and shelter between the banks of wonderful, whispering, green reeds and rushes. I felt it was a more thought provoking outing than our usual meetings as we did have the chance to discuss conflicting views of LWT fenland management whilst we probably learned more about what we did not see than what we did see.
Our erudite and philosophical guide, John Oliver, had a huge bag from which he produced - in the style of a magician - animal skulls, bird’s feet and owl pellets to illustrate his statistics of what had been seen during the year. The second skull in from the left, just past the fox, shows the huge ridge on a badger’s skull that gives an anchorage point for its strong jaw muscles. John was having to balance the ‘wildlife management’ of the fen with the long established agricultural opinion of some local farm workers who remembered the area as one that had produced arable crops. There were also 37 badges in 5 setts on site, again these creatures – with their cuddly image - are not popular with everyone.
Our gentle two hour stroll took us past the eponymous Willow Tree of the Fen. This huge hollow tree had been reduced in size with sections of its trunk being made into seats for use in the outdoor education area. Here school children are being encouraged to collect and identify specimens of wildlife, have a camp fire and learn about how their ancestors made best use of this wetland area. We reached a ‘bird seed’ flower field and were encouraged by John to walk into the waist-high crop of Fat hen, Redshank, Cornflower, Field marigold and Phacelia to enable us to be aware of the plethora of insects in all their stages that live on these plants. On our return to the visitors’ centre we saw from a large poo that badgers eat cherries and had a good view of all Willow Tree fen from the embankment of the river Glen.
The site is not well signed but it is worth a visit. I think we should go again in a couple of years in the winter time to see the waders from the hides where the views will have been cleared of reeds and rushes. Well done LWT for taking on Willow Tree Fen and for appointing such an excellent manager/warden/presenter. RW