Why are Reepham’s badgers going to cost Norfolk £35,000?

Badger. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire Badger. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Thursday, March 27, 2014
1:34 PM

A £35,000 scheme is under way to repair the damage which badgers have caused to one of Norfolk’s most popular long-distance footpaths.

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A network of tunnels, dug by Norfolk’s biggest badger colony at Whitwell, near Reepham, had left a section of the Marriott’s Way, which runs along the old railway embankment there, unsafe and on the brink of collapse.

That posed a real danger to the hundreds of walkers, cyclists, horses and riders who use the trail every year and forced Norfolk County Council to close a 300m stretch of the popular trail for safety reasons nearly two years ago.

But with strict badger protection rules in place and any possibility of moving the colony ruled out, engineers had to be sent back to the drawing board when estimates for plans to solve the problem using traditional methods – such as building bridges over the affected section or creating a permanent new route for the path – came in at between £200,000 and £500,000.

The approved scheme will now see the path reinforced using a system that is frequently used in civil engineering applications such as roads, airfields and construction sites to stabilise ground where it is prone to subsidence.

It will involve setting layers of “geotextile” membrane and aggregate over the path, to create a strong and durable new structure, safe enough to support long-term heavy regular use, especially by horses and their riders, and protect the badgers beneath.

David Harrison, cabinet member for the environment, said: “This stretch of the Marriott’s Way has been closed for a long time and I’d like to thank people for their patience while we dealt with this tricky problem.

“The situation at Whitwell has highlighted the very tough challenges of meeting our obligations to protect wildlife, maintain our beautiful natural environment and enable people to enjoy it safely.

“This inevitably comes at a price because this is a significant engineering project. But it’s not only the best solution, but the cheapest on the table, too.

“Fixing the problem says much about the considerable environmental expertise across a number of different organisations that exists in Norfolk. And that they have been able to work together so effectively to achieve a positive outcome for this very popular part of Norfolk.”

A geophysical survey of the area was initially undertaken by Dr Jenni Turner and undergraduate Louise Christopher from the University of East Anglia.

The information they gathered then gave Norfolk County Council an accurate picture of the precise depth, length and location of the tunnels.

The final scheme was designed by civil engineering specialist, Naue, based on the detailed site investigations undertaken by earth scientists based in the county council’s closed landfill management team.

The work will take about two weeks to complete, subject to the weather. Until then, all the diversions will stay in place for safety reasons.

David Brown, of Natural England, which approved the scheme, said: “Although this is an engineering solution based on tried and trusted technology, this is a novel approach to the very specific problem at Whitwell.

“Mitigation measures have been designed into the scheme to prevent any blockages of the tunnel entrances so that the movement of badgers in and out of the sett will not be inhibited. And given the depth of the tunnels and chambers beneath the surface of the bridleway we’re confident that any disturbance to the badgers during the work will be minimal.

“Once the scheme is finished, it means that people and badgers alike will be able to go about their business as normal along the Marriott’s Way in the very near future.”

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