The Reed Bed

Peter France narrates the extraordinary story of a Fenland reed bed, following the seasonal changes over a single year. Recorded by wildlife sound specialist Chris Watson.

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In late February, the song of a male cuckoo echoes across the Fens as it calls to attract a mate after its long migration from East Africa. The cuckoo's arrival heralds a new year in the life of the reed bed.

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In summer, dragonflies and damselflies patrol the ditches whilst adult birds flit amongst the reeds searching for food to feed their chicks. Meanwhile, falling sea levels at the end of the Iron Age coincide with the arrival of the Romans and the most elaborate marshland engineering technology Europe has ever seen. For the first time, the Fens are made habitable.

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In summer, a fenland raft spider rests its front legs on the water's surface as its prepares to ambush its unsuspecting prey. By the 14th century, the fenlands were at their most prosperous, providing not only good grazing marshes but also reeds, sedge, fish and game.

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In autumn, the reed grass leaves fade and curl away from the stem. Migrating waders stop off to refuel on their route south. Meanwhile, the 17th century is witness to a great change in the landscape as the Dutch engineer Vermuyden embarks upon an ambitious drainage scheme.

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The summer migrants have departed to be replaced by over-wintering ducks, geese and swans. Centuries of drainage have destroyed much of our wetland and very little of our ancient fenland remains intact. So what does the future hold for these relics of our wetland past?