• fen;
  • lateral vegetative spread;
  • natural regeneration;
  • plant traits;
  • restoration;
  • seed bank;
  • standing vegetation;
  • wetland;
  • Wicken Fen

Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve (NNR) in Cambridgeshire, U.K. is a wetland of international importance isolated in a landscape dominated by arable farming. The prospect of species extinctions within the NNR led to the creation of the Wicken Fen Vision, an ambitious project that will eventually expand the reserve boundary by the purchase and restoration of c.50 km2 of arable land. We sampled three fields from each of three distinct age-categories of restoration land (5, 15, and 60 years post-arable), and three fields within the adjacent, undrained NNR, to determine (1) differences in seed bank composition across age-categories, (2) relationships between restoration age, the seed bank and standing vegetation, and (3) changes in species traits across age-categories. Historic arable management contributed to an apparent “vertical mixing” effect in the seed bank of the youngest two age-categories, with associated and significant differences in species functional traits across the study area. Almost all plants associated with NNR vegetation were absent from restoration area seed banks and standing vegetation. Seed bank species common to all ages-categories exhibited a bias toward moderate to high Ellenberg F (moisture) values, persistent seed banks, and lateral vegetative spread. Relatively short (c. 6 years) periods of drainage and plowing impact heavily upon seed bank diversity and soils, resulting in a lack of predrainage vegetation, even after decades of subsequent restoration adjacent to intact, species-rich habitat. However, the seed banks of highly degraded fields can contribute toward the creation of novel wetland vegetation assemblages over time and under suitable environmental conditions.