Vegetation survey for Natural England’s Long Term Monitoring Network, Cambridgeshire (2014)

So you’ve probably heard of ECN, the Environmental Change Network?  It’s a network of sites at which long term environmental monitoring and research is being done to help detect long-term environmental change.  Such as climate change.  Natural England have decided to get more involved with this sort of research and are setting up their own Long Term Monitoring Network using many of the methods pioneered by the ECN.  There will be 40 sites and at each one the following data will be collected (taken from NE website):

  • Weather (at least hourly)
  • Air pollution – diffuse ammonia and wet (precipitation) deposition (monthly)
  • Butterflies (weekly during the flying season)
  • Birds (twice a year)
  • Vegetation (every four years)
  • Soils (every six years)
  • Land management activities (as they arise)

Being a botanist, I was asked to help with the vegetation survey at Woodwalton and Holme Fens, and on the land inbetween which will in due course become The Great Fen.  This involved going to specific grid references and setting up permanent quadrats to record full details of the vegetation present.  Easy.  Right???

This site was a bit of a mission, with quadrats spread out all over the place, some several hundred metres into dense reedbed, some in woodland, and some in farmland which, whilst looking innocuous enough, comes with deep drains around the edge of every field.  And I haven’t even mentioned the mosquitoes yet!

Here’s a nice easy quadrat:

nice easy quadrat

We used metal markers which hopefully will mean we’ll be able to re-find our quadrats in four years’ time…

quadrat marker

Surveying taking place:

work in progress

Quadrat 11 was supposed to be right under this stack of cut reeds !  We decided to relocate it…

quadrat 11

View from quadrat 2:

dense common reed

This was how I got to quadrat 2 – thankfully the site staff made a path through the reeds or it would have taken all day !

track to quadrat 2

Woodwalton Fen has some very rare plants.  There was no sign of the fen violet or fen woodrush in our quadrats, but we did see some interesting things just moving around the site.  Here is the marsh sow thistle looking impressive:

marsh sow thistle

Those are 6 foot canes, by the way.  And another fenland speciality, the great fen ragwort, also a giant and taller than me!

fen ragwort

What a splendid place and I was happy to be invited to survey here, despite being destroyed by mosquitoes and having to stay in a Travelodge on the A1 (!)

Hopefully I’ll get to come back in four years and see how much has changed.

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