Bure Valley: A wildlife haven in heart of Broadland

View across marshland from the paths around the Norfolk Wildlife Trust site at Upton Fen.
Lynette Dear, Senior Reserves Officer on the new permissive path.
December 2013.

Picture: James Bass View across marshland from the paths around the Norfolk Wildlife Trust site at Upton Fen. Lynette Dear, Senior Reserves Officer on the new permissive path. December 2013. Picture: James Bass

Saturday, December 14, 2013
11:30 AM

Broads correspondent Stephen Pullinger reports on how the dream of creating a living landscape in the Bure valley is becoming a reality and treads a new path which has allowed the public to share the joy of Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s (NWT) achievement

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View across marshland from the paths around the Norfolk Wildlife Trust site at Upton Fen.
December 2013.

Picture: James BassView across marshland from the paths around the Norfolk Wildlife Trust site at Upton Fen. December 2013. Picture: James Bass

In the distance, through the lifting mist, a solitary Chinese water deer can be seen carefully picking its way across the grazing marsh.

While ahead of us on the track, a flock of fieldfares, the size of which surprises NWT warden Mark Crossfield, flits from tree to tree as though almost showing us the route.

Suddenly, his binoculars sweep to the horizon and pick up what resembles a scurrying cloud of golden plovers which have just taken flight the other side of the River Bure.

As the languid winter sun finally forces its way through the mist, familiar landmarks such as St Benet’s Abbey and Thurne Mill emerge to create the perfect landscape for a David Dane oil painting.

View across marshland from the paths around the Norfolk Wildlife Trust site at Upton Fen.
A new scrape in the land.
December 2013.

Picture: James BassView across marshland from the paths around the Norfolk Wildlife Trust site at Upton Fen. A new scrape in the land. December 2013. Picture: James Bass

It is a quintessential Broadland scene, a wildlife-rich patchwork of grassland and water, but 10 years ago it was just a vision in the mind’s eye of NWT chief executive Brendan Joyce.

A public appeal launched in the EDP helped the trust to increase its land holding at Upton Fen to include Upton Great and Little Broads and swathes of what was mostly drained arable land.

That has been painstakingly restored to grazing marsh as part of a £1m conservation project and now, for the first time, the public is being invited to take in the transformation by walking a new permissive path.

The path, which opened three months ago, allows people to take a circular walk taking in NWT’s Upton Fen, Upton Marshes, South Walsham Marshes and the River Bure; the walk can be accessed from Upton boat dyke car park or Upton village via public footpaths. NWT senior reserves officer Lynette Dear said: “We are happy for people to walk their dogs on the new permissive path provided they are kept under close control so they don’t disturb the wildlife and the cattle that will be grazing during the summer.

View across marshland from the paths around the Norfolk Wildlife Trust site at Upton Fen.
The new footdrains carved out of the land.
December 2013.

Picture: James BassView across marshland from the paths around the Norfolk Wildlife Trust site at Upton Fen. The new footdrains carved out of the land. December 2013. Picture: James Bass

“NWT does not allow dogs on the fen nature reserve due to the sensitive habitats and wildlife.”

She said the appeal for walkers would be “the very typical Broadland scene of grazing marsh, windmills and cattle”.

“There will also be ample opportunity to spot wildlife, from marsh harriers if you are lucky to barn owls at dusk; this footpath was teaming with butterflies when I walked it back in the summer,” she added.

NWT’s work across the 318 hectare site at Upton has been carried out to create the perfect haven for a range of Broadland wildlife.

About Bure Valley

The area identified by Norfolk Wildlife Trust as the Bure Valley Living Landscape covers 3,000 hectares and is recognised as being of significant conservation importance both nationally and internationally.

It includes Bure Marshes National Nature Reserve, encompassing NWT Ranworth Broad, NWT Cockshoot Broad, Hoveton Great Broad and Decoy Broad, and NWT Upton Broad and Marshes.

Through the project, NWT has made significant advances to restore the viability of the middle reaches of the Bure Valley wetland system as a complete unit.

A major habitat restoration programme has been initiated at NWT Ranworth Broad and South Walsham Marshes as well as NWT Upton Broad and Marshes,

The aim is to provide an essential connection between large areas of land under conservation management. This large-scale work will provide the space and conditions for wildlife populations to expand and move.

One of the most significant elements of the project is the range of wetland habitats that will be re-created and improved. This includes the following priority national Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) habitats: lowland fen, floodplain grazing marsh, wet woodland and reedbed.

By improving water levels and quality across these Bure Valley sites, the project will provide the best conditions for a sustainable future for highly localised and threatened species such as bittern, Norfolk hawker dragonfly, fen orchid, common crane and swallowtail butterfly.

NWT has dedicated staff to manage the Bure Valley Living Landscape area under NWT ownership and management agreements.

This is ensuring the various habitats are restored effectively and efficiently to prescribed management targets.

The main objective has been to raise and manage water levels, restore wetland habitats and develop a sustainable rare-breed grazing operation.

There have been some exciting opportunities, such as adding scrapes, foot drains and flashes to create large areas of habitat for breeding wading birds and wintering wildfowl.

NWT has been assisted by local specialist contractors and will also work together with local landowners and farmers to restore and maintain these important wetlands.

Much of the £1 million habitat works restoring the viability of the middle reaches of the Bure Valley wetland system has been made possible thanks to significant contributions to the project by the Biffa Award Flagship Scheme, Natural England, Redwing Trust, Essex & Suffolk Water, SITA Trust and WREN as well as support by local landowners and farmers.

Thanks to their help, good progress has been made towards NWT director Brendan Joyce’s vision of creating a landscape-scale wetland of international significance.

The wet marshes are a popular winter refuge for ducks, swans and geese while during the spring breeding waders such as lapwing, oyster catcher and redshank can be seen.

The fen is a renowned site for swallowtail butterfly and such rare dragonflies as the Norfolk hawker, while otters have been glimpsed on the secluded broads which can be viewed from a path through the fen.

The whole project at Upton is part of a grander vision to create a Bure Valley Living Landscape - a corridor for wildlife from Wroxham to Acle that will allow rare species to flourish in a larger habitat.

Mr Crossfield, assistant NWT warden for the Bure and Ant, said the project at Upton had been carried out over several years by their small team with the help of contractors funded by a cohort of funders.

After acquiring the various parcels of land, it had taken a few years to work out how water moved around the site.

The aim of their work since had been to raise the water level by extending the system of dykes and foot drains and installing three small wind pumps and water control structures such as sluice boards.

He said: “At this time of the year, the water levels will be higher to attract over-wintering birds and during the spring the levels will be lowered slightly for the breeding waders that need a muddy edge to feed on.”

Mr Crossfield said a lot of the work to dig shallow foot drains and scrapes had been carried out in the past three months employing a tractor-drawn rotary ditcher.

He said: “As we add more features to the habitat we expect to see a real increase in the number of waders breeding in the spring.”

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