A PROJECT to turn more than 85 hectares of Huntingdonshire wetland into the country’s largest reedbed nature reserve will officially open to the public later this year, despite government funding cuts.

A PROJECT to turn more than 85 hectares of Huntingdonshire wetland into the country's largest reedbed nature reserve will officially open to the public later this year, despite government funding cuts.

RSPB environmentalists have been working alongside building suppliers Hanson for the last 10 years to turn a seven square kilometre site, which stretches from Needingworth to Over and up to Earith, into a habitat for wildlife such as otters and reed warblers, and Britain's rarest breeding bird, the bittern.

Work is already taking place to create the Great Fen Project - 3,000 hectares of fenland habitat - in north Huntingdonshire and now, with just over a third of the Ouse Fen Project complete, plans are to open up the site from early autumn for visitors.

More than 32km of footpaths and bridleways will eventually cross the site.

The 30-year project will eventually see 28million tonnes of sand and gravel removed in phases from the wetland by Hanson diggers.

At the end of each phase, the area's top soil is restored and the site shaped into a suitable landscape for reedbeds, before project staff then take over management of the site.

So far 9,500 reed plants and 650 small trees have been planted on the site by staff and volunteers. Islands have also been turned into nesting grounds for gulls and terns and a cattle handling corral has been established.

RSPB warden Chris Hudson said: "I do not think you could know it was not a natural part of the countryside.

"Every year we see new evidence that the reserve is providing homes to an ever-increasing abundance of wildlife, with new species arriving and spreading through the growing wetland landscape.

"A multitude of common waterside birds are already resident, as well as a host of specialist reedbed birds such as sedge warblers, reed warblers and reed buntings.

"The site is home to otters, water voles and the three rarer bird species associated with reedbed - bittern and bearded tit are winter visitors and the first successful nesting by marsh harriers came in 2010."

The project has been part-funded over the last two years by a £49,100 grant from Natural England and through Defra's Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF).

The fund was axed this year as part of the Coalition Government's austerity measures and while funding from Hanson means the project will be concluded, future projects along similar lines look unlikely.

An RSPB spokesman said: "The RSPB are disappointed that the Government has cancelled the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund. The fund has supported valuable projects to improve quarries for people and wildlife since 2002."