Conservationists have pledged to work with farmers to help save one of Britain’s iconic landscapes.
Launched by the RSPB, the Fens Futurescape project aims to conserve wetlands that protect more than 29,000ha of farmland from flooding.
As part of the project, the charity will help farmers secure agri-environment scheme funding to implement nature-friendly farm management.
The vast open landscape of the Fens covers more than 3,000km2 across Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. But it has changed dramatically over the past centuries.
Drainage instigated in the 1600s, for example, had caused the loss of 97% of the original fenland habitat, said RSPB senior conservation officer, Simon Tonkin.
Despite this, pockets of fenland remained some of the country’s richest places for wildlife – such as the black-tailed godwit, one of the UK’s rarest birds.
In addition to its wildlife, the Fens contained some of the UK’s most productive farmland, including over half of the UK’s Grade 1 agricultural land. The area supported more than 27,000 jobs, and enough wetland to help protect nearly 1000 properties and over 29,000ha of farmland from flooding.
But without significant investment, these small pockets of land would diminish in size and quality, putting the landscape under threat.
Mr Tonkin said: “It is essential that we join in partnership with a wide variety of farmers, landowners and stakeholders and step up for nature together.”
To protect wildlife and help maintain flood defences, the Futurescape project will create inter-connected areas of wetland and reed-bed.
The RSPB wanted to help more farmers integrate the needs of farm wildlife with those of their business, Mr Tonkin said.
The charity was already working with more than 80 farmers.
One of those farmers is Dick Johnson, of Lode Hall Farm, Wisbech. “Until recently, cropping was a combination of herbs for essential oils and cereals managed by contractors,” said Mr Johnson. Then the farm started working with the RSPB to reap the benefits of Natural England’s Higher Level Stewardship scheme.
“We now manage a wide range of options to benefit farmland birds and wildlife,” Mr Johnson said. “The site has already attracted breeding corn buntings and grey partridge, and tree sparrow have also been recorded on the site for the first time.”