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The Fen Edge Trial

The Fen Edge Trail: a journey across a landscape & time

Written by Stewart Howe

Several years ago Yaxley’s Fenland Trust proposed a walking route to the Great Fen, subsequently encouraging both Parish and District Council to engage with a project that we believe offers tangible social and economic benefits for the parish. Since that day we have been working in partnership with the Great Fen and developing our own projects centred around the safeguarding, promotion and diffusion of the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the Fenland basin and Fen edge. We have embedded heritage plaques, undertaken research, presented across the length and breadth of the country and assembled a growing collection of historical artefacts.

One of the most exciting of our collaborative projects is the Fen Edge Trail. In development for several years now, this is a walking route around the Cambridgeshire Fens, roughly following the land that is 5 metres above sea level, where the low-lying fenland meets the surrounding higher land. With detours to visit nearby viewpoints, historical sites and areas good for wildlife, the Trail will enable the public to enjoy a fascinating area that has been of strategic importance for the local inhabitants since their first arrival.

The Fen Edge Trail is a national initiative set up by The Cambridgeshire Geological Society as part of their Geosites work. The CGS was born from the natural history department of Cambridge University and promotes interest in the geology of Cambridgeshire, the UK and worldwide. The Geosites team work to designate Local Geological Sites, which are highlighted for geological value for scientific, educational, historical and aesthetic reasons. Partners in developing the Trail are several local organisations who are each exploring their local landscape to contribute to the project. The main partner in developing the Trail is The Fenland Trust in Yaxley and other key partners are the Great Fen and the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire. The project is supported by academic institutions including Cranfield University, who have used their state-of-the-art virtual reality suite to produce and subsequently present 3D models of the Fenland edge landscape of Cambridgeshire. This virtual approach is supported by aerial surveys over Cambridgeshire, which are expanding into Lincolnshire in 2017 as aircraft follow the trail as it slithers north along the fringe of the fen basin.

Complimenting these efforts is a major long-term study of the fen basin to map its flora against geological data. This is notable because the region has been studied botanically since at least the 17th century but, almost without exception, the Fenland parts of its counties have been neglected. The Fen Edge also presents a natural perimeter for the unique landscape and biodiveristy of the Fen basin and could therefore potentially function as the threshold of a Biosphere Reserve.

Multiple teams across Cambridgeshire are now dividing up and working on the Fen Edge Trail, considering physical interpretation, the establishment of ‘micro museums’ and even the restoration and development of new trail routes.

Locally geologists have been on the ground working from Peterborough to Ramsey on the trail with preliminary route data now filtering through to the Fen Edge Trail team. Farcet Parish Council is supporting the development of the “Fen View Museum”, which will play an important part in telling our local story, including the history of Fenland drainage, the brick industry and the world-famous fossil deposits of the fen edge Oxford Clay, which offer a tantalising glimpse into a prehistoric world of predatory marine reptiles. The Fenland Trust’s own local work includes a study of the landscape history of the Fen Edge between Farcet and Holme, which is unearthing not only new information but also highlighting sites for investigation.

We look forward to developing the trail in 2017 as it continues to attract national and international interest and brings attention to an often neglected region.