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Peter France narrates the extraordinary story of the life and times of a Fenland reed bed and its wildlife set against an evocative soundscape.
Monday to Friday 19 - 23 March 2007  3.45-4.00pm

Peter France narrates the extraordinary story of the life and times of a fenland Reed Bed. This is no ordinary story, but a dramatic and evocative ACOUSTIC journey,

The Reed Bed is a fictional story based on fact, following the life of a fenland reedbed from its creation through a history of successive drainings to the threats it faces in the 21st Century. Set against a backdrop of sounds specially recorded by wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson, the series also charts the changing habitat, atmosphere and character of a reed bed over the course of a year.

Reed beds are magical places.

Naturalist, Mike Dilger , Botanist, Phil Gates from Durham University and Landscape Historian and Director of the Ponds Conservation Trust, Stephen Head provide an insight into the history and wildlife of the reed bed.

Reed beds are magical places; In spring, they resound with the chatter of sedge and reed warblers, the fog-like booming call of the bittern, the pig-like squeal of the secretive water rail and the high-pitched pinging calls of bearded tits. In summer, the air is filled with the hum of insects, whilst birds flit about the reeds searching for food to feed their hungry chicks. In autumn, summer visitors depart and winter migrants arrive; and as winter advances huge flocks of starlings gather in the air before descending into the reeds to roost for the night.

The history of wetlands in Britain is really a story of destruction. A quarter of Britain has been at some time some kind of wetland. Since civilization came to The Fenland, there have been three major drainage schemes as man has attempted to tame the wet wilderness and transform wetland into agricultural land. The tiny fragments of fenland which remain, including Wicken Fen in East Anglia, England’s oldest nature reserve, are precious relics of our past.

Programme 1. TX Monday 19 March 15.45-16.00

It’s early April, and the song of a male cuckoo echoes across the Fens, as it calls to attract a mate after its long migration from east Africa. Spring has finally arrived in the reed bed. Reeds at sunset, RSPB Reserve Blacktoft Sands

The origins of the fenlands is traced back to a time after the Ice Age, when the sea levels changed and the wildwoods which no longer exist became submerged beneath the encroaching tide. 

 Listen again to episode 1

Programme 2 . TX: Tuesday 20 March 15.45-16.00

Its summer, and in the reed bed dragonflies and damselflies patrol the ditches whilst adult birds flit amongst the reeds searching for food to feed their chicks.

Dykes and ditches teem with plants and willdife at Wicken FenFalling sea levels at the end of the Iron Age coincide with the arrival of the Romans and the most elaborate fen engineering technology Europe had ever seen. For the first time, draining the land meant the fens were made habitable.

 Listen again to episode 2

Programme 3. TX: Wednesday 21 March 15.45-16.00

Its summer and a fenland raft spider rests its front legs on the water’s surface as it’s prepares to ambush its unsuspecting prey. Wicken Fen in The Summer

By the 14th century, the fenlands were at their most prosperous providing not only good grazing marshes, but also reeds, sedges, wool, fish, and birds.

 Listen again to episode 3

Programme 4. TX: Thursday 22 March 15.45-16.00

Its Autumn, and the leaves of the reeds fade and curl away from the stem. Migrating waders stop off to refuel on their route south.

Dense reed bedThe 17th century is witness to a great change in the landscape as the Dutch engineer Vermuyden and his “Adventurers” embark on the “Third Draining”; the draining of the Bedford Level, and the diversion of the River Ouse.

 Listen again to episode 4

Programme 5. TX: Friday 23 March 15.45-16.00

Its winter, and the departure of the summer migrants the geese, and over-wintering duck arrive. Chris Watson recording in a reed bed

Centuries of drainage have destroyed much of our wetland, and today very little of our ancient fenland remains intact. What does the future hold for these relics of our wetland past?

 Listen again to episode 5
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