The fens have the richest soil in England and so most of the land is under the plough but there are isolated spots that have been saved as havens for wildlife such as the nature reserve at Baston Fen, a protected area in South Lincolnshire which covers 90 acres of washlands to the south of Bourne and is administered by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.
The washlands were originally created in the mid-17th century to take floodwater from the River Glen in times of high flows. Dispersing it on the washes reduced the risk of bank bursts and associated wide scale flooding of adjoining farmland. These days, high flows are diverted into the Greatford Cut and thence into the River Welland near Market Deeping.
Adjacent to the washlands and alongside the rivers are borrow pits excavated over the centuries to provide soil for maintenance of the banks. These pits were last used in the 1950s. A programme of work now ensures that sections of these pits, and the reserve’s dyke system, are systematically cleaned out over a ten-year period in order to retain a variety of aquatic habitats. The ponds, pools and meres are cleaned out over a much longer period. The overall management, including a high water table in summer, is designed to provide typical fenland habitats for a wide variety of birds, plants and animals, many of them now scarce in the region.
The reserve was purchased in 1967 with a grant from the World Wildlife Fund and the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves, now The Wildlife Trusts. In 1968, Baston Fen was scheduled as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its botanical and ornithological interests and since then, the reserve has proved to be equally important for a wide range of invertebrates, including moths, bugs, beetles and molluscs. The three grass washes are subjected to a variety of grazing and haymaking regimes to create a varied flora and in winter are flooded from early December to early March to attract wildfowl.
Until recent years, thirty acres of the reserve had another use in winter when the area was specially flooded in anticipation of severe overnight frosts that would create the ideal venue for ice skating by a dedicated band of enthusiasts who were only able to pursue their sport when the weather was cold enough.
Unfortunately, this age old winter pursuit ended at Baston Fen in 1993 when the Lincolnshire Skating Association which organised it were forced to abandon the periodic events because of crippling insurance charges. Pleasure skating continued for a few more years but the owners of the land, the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, faced similar difficulties with their insurers over public liability and so skating for fun also ended in 2003 although there are still some who take to the ice when the weather conditions are right but they do so at their own risk.