After a long time without any blogging from the team here at Lakenheath Fen, it is an absolute pleasure to be writing it once again! One of our wardens, Emma, and I are now back from furlough, joining our Site Manager Dave and our administrator Suzanne. Over the past couple of weeks we have been working hard and working together to get things ready for opening today.  This blog will describe in detail what we are able to offer visitors, and I hope it is helpful!

Firstly, the reserve car park will be open from 9am to 5pm each day, and outside of these hours the steel gate at the roadside will be locked. We have thought long and hard about this and feel that closing the reserve while we are not here is the safest option- in the local area there has been an increase in anti-social activity, especially out of hours, and we feel that if we are to put wildlife first, we need to have these reduced opening hours for the time being. It will also, we hope, give our supporters peace of mind to know that the reserve, its wildlife and all our facilities are that much safer overnight.

We are unable to open our Visitor Centre for the time being, for a variety of reasons; mainly because of the stringent hygiene requirements to protect our staff, volunteers and visitors from COVID-19 while they are here, the need for distancing, and also because we have a much reduced workforce- many of our volunteers are over 70 years of age and/or have underlying health problems which legally prevents them from volunteering with us for the time being. Without their help we just can’t do what we used to do to the same level. However, we have set up a Welcome Point for you when you visit; this is sited at the side of the Visitor Centre and it will be manned throughout this period while our Visitor Centre is shut. Here you will be able to find all the information you need about the current wildlife highlights and the trails and viewpoints that remain open for you to enjoy. There will be paper maps to take and keep if you are unfamiliar with the reserve too.

Please note that from today we have resumed our entrance charge for non-RSPB members, while those visitors who are RSPB members can still enjoy free entry upon presentation of their RSPB member card. For a while during the lockdown, before we had to close, entry was free for everyone in order to make exercise and outdoor leisure more accessible. However, we do have a need to support ourselves financially and to bring income in to support Lakenheath Fen and the work we do, so we have reinstated the usual charges- £4 for adults who are non-RSPB members, £3 for students and £2 for under-16’s.

For the time being, our toilets are closed due to us not having the capacity to clean them frequently enough in compliance with COVID-19 regulations, should they be open to the public. We hope that in time, we can open them for use by visitors and as soon as anything changes we will let you know.

Out on our trails, we have been hard at work and are extremely grateful to a couple of volunteers (who are still able to help us) for endlessly strimming and mowing for days to get the paths back in shape and walkable! After three months of no control, and a nice damp rich peaty soil underfoot, the reserve was looking more like a jungle than a well-tended network of footpaths but now we are finally ready to reopen. However, we have had to close one section of footpath, which is the stretch of central hard track between New Fen and Joist Fen, due to breeding wildlife nesting VERY close to the path. We have discovered the wildlife in question simply does not cope with people walking past so we have decided, until the breeding season is over, to close a section of track. Please take care during your visit, and obey any signage you see on the reserve- it is there to protect the wildlife while still allowing visitors access.

This path closure does mean that in order to reach Joist Fen Viewpoint, visitors will need to use the Washland Footpath for the entire length from New Fen onwards, as there is no access through the centre of the reserve. Please be aware that cattle are grazing between the two kissing gates on the riverbank, one at New Fen and one at Joist Fen, just to make you aware that you may encounter them! The best thing to do, if they are blocking the path, it just to walk calmly round them and resist the urge to stroke them as they prefer to be left alone, but will not harm anyone if treated with respect.

The usual seasonal trail closures are in place through New Fen itself, too. While we do have breeding bitterns and marsh harriers within New Fen, we believe (as a result of survey work carried out last week) that none of these nests are especially close to the paths. However, the vegetation has grown up so much on these seasonal trails that we cannot be certain that any mowing wouldn’t result in the destruction of nests of species such as harvest mouse, reed and sedge warbler, whitethroat and wren. As a result we are leaving these paths uncut until the end of the breeding season, when it will be safe to bring them back into use again.

For those of our visitors who find our disabled parking spaces down at New Fen useful, we are able to still offer this facility as we believe it is so important for visitors to be able to enjoy the reserve, regardless of their level of mobility. So, if you’d like to book a space here, give us a call when you arrive on 01842 863404 and we will bring you out a pass for you to display on your dashboard when parked. Just ring the doorbell at the Visitor Centre or call us again when you leave, and we will come out and collect your pass. This system just enables us to know how many cars are down there, which is important for health and safety reasons.

Regrettably, we can’t hire out binoculars, pond dipping kits, or children’s activity backpacks for the time being as fully sterilising them between each use and the close contact required in order to loan them out just isn’t practical at the moment. Again, when things change we will let you know.

Just like before the lockdown, dogs are only permitted on the riverbank footpath and on the short route between the Car Park and the footpath itself, which is a national trail. Please do feel free to bring a picnic as the vegetation has been cleared around the picnic benches!

I hope this blog has been helpful and informative- but please get in touch with us on 01842 863404 or using lakenheath@rspb.org.uk if you have any questions. Later on today I’ll follow this up with a sightings blog to give an idea of what we’ve had on the reserve in terms of wildlife recently and an update on our beloved cranes and bitterns too!

Best wishes,

Heidi Jones (not Emma!)
Visitor Experience Officer, RSPB Lakenheath Fen

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