Holme Fen

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Silver Birch Woodland at Holme Fen

Holme Fen is an area of drained fenland on Huntingdonshire. It lies to the west of the village of Holme.

Like most of the Great Fen, Holme Fen has been drained for agriculture, producing rich soil, but part of it is now a National Nature Reserve. Within the reserved are the famous Holme Fen Posts, which mark the lowest land point in Great Britain and indeed the whole of the United Kingdom; the ground here is nine feet below sea level.[1][2]

The Holme Fen Posts

Holme Fen Posts

The first Holme Fen Post dates from 1851. It is a huge cast iron column thought to have come from the Crystal Palace Exhibition Hall, and was driven into the peat by the landowner, William Wells, in 1851. The top of the post was then was at ground level but over the years the peat has shrunk to such an extent that the post is now some thirteen feet out of the ground. The post is now a Grade II listed structure.

Wells installed the post in order to mark the shrinking of the peat as a result of the draining of the fen. Before drainage, the fens contained many shallow lakes, of which Whittlesey Mere was one of the largest. The River Nene originally flowed through this mere, then south to Ugg Mere, before turning east towards the Great Ouse. By 1851, silting and peat expansion had reduced Whittlesey Mere to less than 1,000 acres and only three feet deep. In that year the mere disappeared, when new drains carried waters to a pumping station and up into Bevill's Leam. The drainage turned both the mere and the Holme Fen into usable farmland, but subsidence followed.

In anticipation of the ground subsidence, William Wells had an oak pile driven through the peat and firmly embedded in the underlying clay; he then cut the top level with the ground in 1851 and used it to monitor the peat subsidence. A few years later, the oak post was replaced by a cast iron column (reputedly from The Crystal Palace building at The Great Exhibition of 1851), that was similarly founded on timber piles driven into the stable clay, with its top at the same level as the original post. This is the Holme Post that survives today. As it was progressively exposed, the post became unstable, and steel guys were added in 1957. At this point, a second iron post was also installed, 20 feet to the north-east. The original post now rises 13 feet above the ground, and provides an impressive record of the ground subsidence. Both posts are standing today.

Nature Reserve

The National Nature Reserve covers 600 acres at the westernmost end of the East Anglian fens at the south-western edge of what was Whittlesey Mere. The Fen occupies a crescent-shaped site approximately a mile and a half long by a mile wide and has been designated as a "Site of Special Scientific Interest" and "Geological Conservation Review Site".

The reserve is home to a variety of birds, including the Eurasian siskin, Nightingale and Lesser redpoll, and around 450 species of fungi.[1]

Holme Fen is the largest silver birch woodland in lowland Britain. It contains approximately 12 acres of rare acid grassland and heath and a hectare of remnant raised bog, an echo of the habitat that would have dominated the area centuries ago. This is the most south-easterly bog of its type in Britain.

Holme approximately marks the south-western limit of Stage 2 of the Great Fen Project: a grand project by taxpayer-funded quangoes to flood the farmland of the fens to restore ancient habitats.

The reserve is open to the public throughout the year.

The Floating Church

The village sign shows a man leading a horse towing the Floating Church of Holme that was dedicated to St Withburga ([[Wihtburh) in April 1897. It was the idea of the rector of Holme, Rev George Broke, that a church on a boat could get to areas of the fens which were difficult to reach to allow those who lived there to worship.

The boat was 30 feet long and about 10 feet wide. It had a communion table, font, a lectern which doubled as a pulpit, and a harmonium. Between 1897 and 1904, 74 baptisms took place on board.[3]

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