Restoration of the fens has today taken a huge step forward with the announcement that the Heritage Lottery Fund is awarding a record £8.9m grant to the Great Fen Project, thus making it one of the largest habitat restoration schemes in Europe.

The Project will turn a 14.5km sq area of land and 70km of ditches in Cambridgeshire back into wetland landscape, creating marsh, reed beds, wet grassland and lakes. It hopes to bring back the historic wilderness that once covered 3,000 square miles between Cambridge, Peterborough and The Wash. Over the past 400 years, farming and drainage has resulted in a 99 per cent loss of the fens.

However, the Great Fen Project will guarantee a favourable future for many endangered habitats, including fen meadows, reed beds, riverine woodland; as well as rare species such as the fen wood-rush, the fen ragwort and the fen violet, which is currently only found in three places in the UK. The extremely rare chaser dragonfly will also have a new home, and birds including the bittern, common crane and spoonbill should also be seen in the area once more.

The grant will be given to the Wildlife Trust, which will then purchase 3,588 acres within the protected area, located between Huntingdon and Peterborough near Ramsey. This will add to land that is already being managed between two small nature reserves, Holme Fen and Woodwalton Fen. Ultimately, the Great Fen Project will protect over 9,000 acres of land for wildlife and visitors.

Secretary of State for the Environment Hilary Benn said, ‘It?s great to see such a generous grant being invested in a project that everyone can enjoy and benefit from.’

Actor and author Stephen Fry, who is also President of the Great Fen Campaign, added that he was ‘thrilled at this news. The Heritage Lottery Fund has recognised the enormous value of the Great Fen Project and its unique, pioneering approach to this precious, delicate and beautiful landscape.’