The reserve is a mix of open deep water, permanent shallow water, mudflat and saltmarsh. The intertidal mudflats and saltmarshes represent one of Britain's most important winter feeding areas for waders and wildfowl.
Where: Lincolnshire and Norfolk
Main habitat: coastal
Why visit: an internationally important wetland site where you can enjoy peace and quiet amid one of the last truly wild areas of England
Star species: huge flocks of waders during the autumn; one of the largest breeding colonies of common seal in the UK.
The Wash is one of England’s last great wildernesses, a place where you can enjoy true tranquillity, as well as the excitement of some of England’s great wildlife spectacles.
The Wash National Nature Reserve is the biggest reserve in England, covering over 8880 ha. It’s also the most important wetland site in the UK, with its vast mudflats and huge expanse of saltmarsh supporting thousands of birds all year round. In winter, the reserve attracts large numbers of wildfowl including pink-footed geese, brent geese and shelduck, while in the summer, waders and seabirds come here to breed. The Wash is also one of the best breeding areas in England for common seals .
The Wash that we see today is a remnant of the much larger Fenland Basin, which once stretched back to Peterborough and Cambridge. In the 10th century it was a wild and dangerous place inhabited by a ferocious race of people known as the Fenland Tigers, who fought tooth and nail to repel Norman invaders.
It was in this enormous marsh too that, legend has it, King John lost his entire baggage train, when it was overcome by a fast rising tide in 1216.
The reserve is dedicated to the memory of Sir Peter Scott, a great conservationist and son of ‘Scott of the Antarctic’. He lived at East Lighthouse, a Grade II* Listed Building on the banks of the River Nene, during the 1930s.
The Wash and its surroundings have been shaped by man since Roman times. The rivers that flowed into the Wash once followed slow, meandering courses, depositing successive layers of silt in their estuaries and along the shores of the Wash. This caused the rivers to frequently flood the surrounding marshland.
However, the Romans, medieval monks and finally Dutch engineers straightened the rivers, drained the fens and built banks to protect the land from floods. Up until the 1970s, large areas of saltmarsh were enclosed by earth banks and converted into agricultural land, and today the Wash is totally enclosed by artificial sea defences.
Fishing and wildfowling are still important activities, while busy Fenland ports such as King’s Lynn and Boston, were once among the most important in the country, and traded furs and timber with the countries around the Baltic Sea. Looking out onto Terrington Marsh, the skyline is dominated by two circular banks. These were part of a trial in the 1970s to create an offshore freshwater reservoir which would have ultimately covered much of the reserve. However, thankfully the plans were never realised.
Other NNRs in the area