Size: 89.72 ha (221.7 acres)

Grid ref: TL645693

OS map sheets: Explorer
OS Landranger

One of the best remaining areas of undrained, semi-natural fen in Europe. The fen is peat soil laid over chalk rock, with a layer of clay between. Chalk springs continually well up into the fen. This is a National Nature Reserve and the few paths through the wood are fenced. Dogs must be kept on leads within the reserve. Access to the wood involves a pleasant walk along well signed footpaths, muddy in winter.

Wetland Habitats

Chippenham Fen has many wetland habitats within its 112 hectares. Unlike the typical Cambridgeshire fens which are on flat land below sea level, Chippenham Fen is twelve metres above sea-level and surrounded by higher farmland. It contains substantial areas of spring-fed calcareous species-rich fen, and more nutrient rich tall fen, as well as a range of unimproved wet meadows, saw sedge beds, small areas of chalk grassland, scrub and wet woodland.

Below the shallow peat soils, natural chalk springs continually upwell into the fen, helping to keep it wet. Water levels have to be carefully monitored and a network of dykes (ditches) is carefully managed to make sure that each habitat has just the right amount of water it needs. There are several dams in the dykes, which are used to hold water levels high but can be altered to release excess water in flood conditions.

Saw Sedge beds

As their name suggests, these are dominated by saw -sedge which is a tall triangular-stemmed plant with viciously serrated leaves. Large stands of this plant, such as at Chippenham fen, are rare in Europe. Although not rich in wild flowers saw -sedge beds are one of the most important habitats on the fen. The saw-sedge is cut once every four years on rotation to maintain its vigour, and the crop is used in thatching houses.

Mixed Fen

The term ‘mixed fen’ refers to several parts of Chippenham Fen which contain various amounts of reed, grasses, sedges and rushes together with many wild flowers, including bogbean, bog pimpernel and marsh fragrant orchids. In order to keep the fen open Natural England mow and remove the cuttings once every year or two. In 2001, we started a grazing trial using water buffalo.

Wet Meadows

Meadows on the northern and eastern edges of Chippenham Fen are dominated by purple moor grass and blunt-flowered? rush, and are particulalry flower rich. This type of meadow is rare in Europe. Many orchids grow in the meadows, such as marsh helleborine and the unusual yellow flowered form of early marsh orchid. The meadows support the rare Cambridge Milk Parsley, known from only three locations in the country, of which Chippenham Fen is the best site.

Woodlands

Some of the woodlands were planted in the 1790’s , and have developed their own ecological charachter. Trees of dry land, such as Scot’s Pine and Yew, can be found in the woods dating from this period. Younger woodland developed in the 1950s and 1960s on fen habitats, and we have gradually been removing this to restore the fen.

Animals

The combination of habitats is very good for invertebrates, and there are some flies and other insects which are not found elsewhere in the UK. Several hundred different moths have been found including the rare Silver-barred moth which flies readily if disturbed during the day.

Dragonflies are everywhere in Summer. On warm evenings, glow worms are found along the paths. Birds on the National Nature Reserve include snipe, woodcock, grasshopper warbler, tawny owl, barn owl and water rail.

Hobbies can sometimes be seen in summer flying around catching dragonflies. Serotine bats fly over the fen to feed, as well as other bats including pipistrelles and brown long -eared bats.

History

Chippenham Fen was enclosed by John Tharp in 1790 when the path and ditch network was created. Later attempts to drain the fen for agriculture failed. It is still part of Chippenham Park Estate and in the same family. It is leased to Natural England. An additonal area is leased to us from the Fordham Abbey Estate.

Visiting Chippenham Fen

Chippenham Fen is four miles north of Newmarket on the road between Chippenham and Snailwell. Public footpaths through the middle of the fen and along the northern boundary are the only public access. A permit is required to to visit the remainder of the reserve. Organised groups are welcome to request a guided walk with a warden.

Visiting Chippenham Fen

Chippenham Fen is four miles north of Newmarket on the road between Chippenham and Snailwell. Public footpaths through the middle of the fen and along the northern boundary are the only public access. A permit is required to to visit the remainder of the reserve. Organised groups are welcome to request a guided walk with a warden.

Please enjoy a peaceful walk around Chippenham Fen and help look after it by following the guidelines on the reserve signs. Remember that there are natural hazards such as open water, so take care.

Contact

To enquire about a permit or other query email chris.hainsworth@naturalengland.org.uk or by calling Chippenham Fen NNR Office on 01638721329.