Natural England - Holme Fen NNR

Holme Fen NNR

Holme Fen is a rare and isolated remnant of fen habitat lying at the lowest most westerly point of the East Anglian fen basin.

Holme Fen NNR

County: Cambridgeshire

Main habitats: Birch woodland, remnant ancient bog, heathland, acid grassland.

Why visit: The reserve is nationally important for wildlife and is particularly noted for the species of fungi, of which over 500 have been recorded, and the rare plant fen woodrush. Many bird species can be seen in the woodland including siskin, redpoll and greater-spotted woodpecker. The open sunny rides are fantastic for invertebrates particularly butterflies and dragonflies which can be seen in abundance during the summer months.

The peace and tranquillity of the site make it an ideal location to escape the hustle and bustle and immerse into the history and wildlife of the fens.

Star species: Holme Fen is dominated by birch woodland but other tree species such as oak, alder, yew and holly are also established in some areas bringing a more mixed woodland feel to the site and adding to the species diversity.

Amongst the 500 species of fungi is the tinder fungus, also known as horse shoe fungus, which forms a bracket like structure on the side of the tree trunk and is particularly partial to living on birch and so is found readily on this site. The instantly recognisable fly agaric is also found around the woodland with its beautiful waxy red colour and white warts over the surface.

The woodland and scrub understory also supports a wide variety of bird species and a walk in the spring time will have a magical soundtrack of chiff chaff, blackcap, willow warbler, reed warbler, great tit and many more. The lucky visitor may also hear the unmistakable sound of the nightingale which also breeds on the site in small numbers. Recent decades have seen the return of some of the UK’s raptors including buzzard and red kite which both now breed on the reserve.

Dragonflies and damselflies also make good use of the open water on this site along with the open ditches and they are well represented on the site including species such as Hairy Dragonfly, Ruddy Darter and Variable Blue Damselfly. A lucky watcher may also see the Daubenton’s bat flying over the water on a calm summer evening.


Holme Fen is the largest lowland birch woodland in the UK which has a fascinating past leading to the creation of the reserve we see today. Holme Fen is on the edge of the former Whittelsey Mere basin which escaped initial drainage in the 17th century despite various attempts with wind pumps. In 1851, however, the mere was finally drained and the raised bog, reedbed and fen habitat which would have surrounded the mere dried out and collapsed over time leading to the formation of the birch dominated woodland of Holme Fen. The Holme Fen Post which was sunk in at ground level in 1850 shows the phenomenal rate of shrinkage over the years as it now sits at around 4m above ground level.

Fortunately the area that is now Holme Fen was considered too wet, even after drainage, to be put under the plough and so the peat has not been damaged extensively on the site, except from the two areas which were cut and are now Burnham Mcphail’s mere and Boston’s mere, (named after past wardens). The peat currently remains at around 3m deep over much of the site.

Management of the reserve

The Great Fen Projectexternal link is an ambitious project aiming to create a rich fenland landscape between and around the two NNRs of Holme Fen and Woodwalton Fen. Natural England is in partnership with the Environment Agency, The Wildlife Trust, Huntingdonshire District Council and Middle Level Commision to achieve the vision of the Great Fen which started with the purchase of 82ha of land, (Darlows Farm), to the North of Woodwalton Fen in 2002. Since then the project has managed to acquire approximately 60% of the total project area and at the end of 2012 almost 1500ha is under conservation management.

It is also hoped that the wider project will have scope to incorporate flood storage areas to provide further protection for surrounding farmland from flood events.

The Great Fen Project will significantly increase the wildlife interest of the local area and will also provide opportunities for tourism benefitting the economy of the area. Local communities are also encouraged to help develop the vision through land management, volunteering and helping encourage youngsters to value the wildlife which surrounds them.

How to get there

The reserve is immediately north of the B660 midway between the villages of Holme and Ramsey St Mary's (two km to the east and west respectively). The town of Yaxley is seven km to the north west and Peterborough is 12 km to the north.

By train

There is a mainline train station in Peterboroughexternal link.

By bus

There are regular bus services from Peterborough to Ramsey St Mary's.

By car

Access to the reserve is via minor roads from the B660.

Visiting the reserve

The nearest toilet facilities, including an accessible toilet and baby change facilities, can be found in the nearest town Ramsey, or at the Wildlife Trust Countryside Centre on Chapel Road, Ramsey Heights, open during office hours (usually 8.30-4.30 Monday-Friday).

Places to eat and shops can be found in local towns and villages.

Free parking is available along the road in various lay-bys. The one closest to the Holme Fen posts has a ramp and level access over grass to view the posts and information boards. Due to the remoteness of the site please ensure you do not leave any valuables in your cars.

There is a lookout point onto Burnham’s mere along a short level surfaced path close to a lay-by opposite the Holme Fen posts. There is also a bird hide at Boston’s Mere accessed through the reserve on grassy paths.

You should be aware that:

  • Paths through the reserve are undulating and large tree roots are exposed in places. Please do not leave the paths as areas off route can be very wet. Also, please do not enter the woodland in windy conditions.

  • There are several deep ditches across the site where the water level is often very low. Do not attempt to enter these ditches under any circumstances 

  • Fires, barbecues, and camping are not permitted at Holme Fen.

Dog walking: Dogs are welcome at Holme Fen but under close control. There are no dog bins on the reserve so we would ask owners to come prepared to take mess away with them for disposal.

Way marked trails: The lost lake and other Holme histories: (1.2mb)pdf document - 1.7km (approx 1 mile). There is a way marked trail starting at the Holme Fen posts to explore some of the interesting features of the reserve including the charcoal kilns left behind when large scale felling took place for charcoal making during the Second World War.

There's lots to see at all times of year so look out for the many bird species found on the reserve and some of the interesting species of fungi which are found abundantly in the autumn time.

School and community groups

The Wildlife Trust countryside classroom at Ramsey Heights offers a number of educational programmes for school and further education groups to engage with nature at the ideal location, surrounded by trails accessible to all and with facilities for groups of all ages and abilities. The classroom is on Chapel Road, Ramsey Heights, close to the Woodwalton Fen NNR and educational groups also visit the reserve at Woodwalton Fen and also Holme Fen NNR.

If you are interested in visiting the NNRs and the wider Great Fen area with a group please contact the Great Fen Team for more information:
Tel : +44 (0)1487 710420 or e-mail or visit their website.

For university groups wishing to visit or discuss potential research opportunities please contact the Natural England Senior Reserves Manager directly:
Alan Bowley +44 (0)1487 812363 or e-mail

Want to get involved?

We have many tasks that we simply could not achieve without the help of our brilliant volunteers who give us their time and expertise to achieve the management tasks necessary for the maintenance of the NNRs and the wider Great Fen Project area.

There are opportunities to volunteer on practical tasks which are normally outdoors focusing on habitat management or infrastructure maintenance. There are also opportunities to volunteer for wildlife monitoring projects, not just for the field work but also for collating data etc.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer please contact the Reserve Manager - Alan Bowley on 01487 812363 or email

Further information

If you would like to contact the reserve directly please call the Senior Reserves Manager, Alan Bowley, on +44 (0)1487 812363 or e-mail

To contact the Great Fen Team call +44 (0)1487 710420 or e-mail