Fens are rare wildlife 'hotspot', a new report finds

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The Fens are home to 25% of Britain's rarest wildlife and 13 globally rare species, according to a new report.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia studied over one million records collected by scientists and amateur enthusiasts that date back to 1670.

The Fens Biodiversity Audit details evidence of 13,474 species of plants, insects, birds, fish and mammals.

The area covered 3,800 km sq, spanning the Fenlands of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire.

Christopher Panter, an ecologist from the school of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia and one of the authors of the audit, commented: "One of the most surprising things was that, despite it being a very large area, most of the area was previously unrecorded."

Fantastic fens

Dolomedes fen raft spider

Data was collected from well-known fen sites such as Chippenham, Woodwalton and Wicken Fens, as well as less-known sites such as Holme, Baston and Thurlby Fens, and gravel pits such as Dogsthorpe Star Pit.

Fen wildlife in figures

Results show that the area is of global importance. The Fens are home to 13 species that are included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species.

The European eel is listed as critically endangered, while the white-clawed crayfish is currently listed as endangered.

Other threatened species include black-tailed godwits, otters, Barbastelle bats and Desmoulin's whorl snail.

Researchers also found 82 species that are of significance to the area.

Mr Panter said, "Of the 82 species, we identified around half for which the Fens are a 'primary stronghold'. We quantified this as where 50% or more of a species occur in the area".

White-clawed crayfish The white-clawed crayfish is classed as endangered on the IUCN Red List

Within this number are a further 20 species that are found virtually nowhere elsewhere in the UK, such as the fen ragwort and a subspecies of the heath dog-violet, plus the Rosser's sac spider, feather-winged beetles, a snail-killing fly Anticheta obviliosa and the Cambridge groundling moth.

Of the total species recorded, researchers found 30 species of rare hoverflies and 92 rare water beetles.

But the study highlights that much of the Fens' important biodiversity has been lost. Mr Panter explained, "100 species of birds, bees and butterflies have been lost from the area since 1670 - the period that the audit covers".

This number includes 30 flowering plants, 10 beetles, 17 moths and six butterflies that are absent from the Fens due to local or UK extinction.

A total of 504 rare species have not been recorded in the last 25 years.

Fen ragwort Fen ragwort is exclusive to the area
The stakes are high

Researchers identified which specific wetland habitats were most favoured by wildlife in the Fens.

Mr Panter said, "This was mainly bright, well-vegetated areas, but reed beds with tall vegetation, dead herbaceous stems and detritus seemed to be very important".

The audit also shows how management could be improved for wildlife and where new management techniques could be introduced.

"This study gives an understanding of the ecological requirements of hundreds of rare species so that conservation can be cost-effective," said Mr Panter.

Work is now under way to restore the wetland complex at both existing and new sites.

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