Vegetation is a key part of the habitat for animals and birds, however the fen land flora itself is struggling to survive with modern farming and land use changes. The natural annual cycle of water levels and flows has been reversed to manage water for our needs with disastrous effect on a huge number of species which struggle to cling on in isolated pockets. The aim of Kingfishers Bridge is to create habitats which can support the full fen-land ecosystem by creating an approximation of the natural cycles which have been lost from much of the fens. Many new species of national importance are being discovered every year having found their own way into the project, mostly down to careful management of our calcareous water supply.
A few species are common to all wetland habitats at kingfishers Bridge and their distribution and structure to a large degree dictates the usage of that habitat; Common Reed will grow in water up to a metre deep. It grows as a fringe to parts of the mere and ditches as well as dominating the reed bed. Species such as Bittern require wet reedbeds for feeding and nesting. The main reed-bed was established using seed which was pre-treated to aid germination, then carefully sown into prepared areas planned for the reed bed. This technique worked well, although equally effective was to broadcast the seed on the surface of the water and allow it to float to the muddy margins where it also germinated quite happily. Other species using the reeds are reed and Sedge Warblers, Reed Buntings and Harvest Mice. A mix of rush species helps to give structure to the wet meadows and scrapes where reed is less able to compete. The range of grazing and mowing techniques employed at Kingfishers Bridge has a diverse effect on the rush leading to a patchwork sward of tall dense tussocks and open 'lawns' providing shelter for other wetland plants and animals alike.
Water germander is a very rare plant that has been declining in its range and population. However at Kingfishers Bridge this decline has been reversed and numbers are rising rapidly. Down to just 12 plants at Kingfishers Bridge and even fewer at it's only other UK site in Devon the species re-introduction program here has led to the population rising to over 5,000,000! The success of this scheme is primarily down to our naturalistic control of water levels. Reproducing stollonically, it likes the area between the winter and summer water levels, which allows it to be in water over winter and in damp conditions in summer. Although it produces viable seed it appears to spread through bits of the plant breaking off (known as stolons), floating to the shallow water edges of pools where it takes root. If the water is clear it is happy spending the winter 30cm below the surface.
Based on the success of the Water germander here we are now involved in the species recovery programs for Fen Ragwort and fen Violet, both close to extinction in the UK and in the case of the Fen violet, internationally. With both of these species later levels and chemistry are key to success and we hope to build on our knowledge and provide another vital population for these species in the fens. Southern Marsh Orchids have colonised a few areas of damp alkaline soil and Saw Sedge is now established on the edge of the reedbed. Fen Ragwort and Cambridge Milk-Parsley are present in the Fen, careful management is helping them to get established.
Whist primarily a wetland creation project the geology of Kingfishers Bridge lends itself perfectly to peripheral limestone grasslands and banks. By removing much of the topsoil and either mixing it with the lime or leaving the lime bare we have encouraged the formation of some truly exceptional calcicole swards. On the limestone grassland Venus's-looking-glass is an annual which likes disturbed calcareous (alkaline) soils. Decreasing nationally, it is regularly found at Kingfishers Bridge amongst the sparse vegetation on the limestone.
Seeded alkaline wildflower meadows are spreading across the highest areas of the site and provide a stunning display of blooms and invertebrates right through the summer. The hay cut from this as part of our management can then be used to feed our livestock if needed through the harshest part of the winter.