Norfolk Broads nature reserve returned to former glory

Victoria LeggettA newly-restored nature reserve is once again blooming after a two-year restoration project which hopes to encourage some of the world's rarest wildlife back to its wetland wilderness.Victoria Leggett

A newly-restored nature reserve is once again blooming after a two-year restoration project which hopes to encourage some of the world's rarest wildlife back to its wetland wilderness.

In 2006, the RSPB bought Sutton Fen on the Norfolk Broads from landowner David King following a major fundraising campaign.

After assessing the 170 acres of wetland, it was decided some areas could do with a helping hand to bring them back to their former glory.

Warden Richard Mason sad: 'Although it was a fantastic site in good condition, there were certain areas and certain spaces that needed to be improved.

'The aim on a fen is to have lots of low-growing vegetation like reed and rush sedges that allow lots of light to get in. A lot of the site wasn't like that anymore - it was scrub covered in willow and younger woodland.'

Thanks to a �49,050 grant from Biffaward, an environment award which uses tax credits from Biffa Waste Services to fund biodiversity projects, work began in April 2008.

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Over the past two years, RSPB staff, volunteers and contractors have worked tirelessly to tidy it up and make it easier to access for conservation workers.

New bridges have been installed to allow wardens to move through without falling into ditches and scrub has been cut back to create open spaces which will encourage some of the rarer species of plants, insects and birds.

Fencing has also been improved to control where the fen's herd of Highland cattle graze.

Mr Mason said: 'It's also stopping them escaping, which has been a problem in the past with the low fencing. Cows can jump quite high.'

The grant also paid for local sedge cutters to manage some of the habitat using traditional hand-cutting techniques.

The result is an even better habitat for some of the country's most unusual species of plants, insects, animals and birds.

Mr Mason said: 'Some of them are so rare we can't talk about them.

'There is a potential that people might hear they are there and try to come to see them - in doing that they might tread on one. We're not encouraging visitors at all because of the potential damage to species.'

But there are many others that the charity is more than willing to talk about to demonstrate how important the land at Sutton Fen is.

Nationally there are only thought to be 10 to 15 colonies of crested buckler ferns in Britain yet a recent audit discovered nearly 1,000 of the plants on this one site.

The area's three booming bitterns, marsh harriers, water voles and otters are expected to thrive following the restoration.

Mr Mason added: 'In the first year of the project, we did a study into the ecology of the site. About 15pc of what we found is considered nationally scarce or 'red data book' - which means on the edge of extinction.'

The warden said he hoped the fen would continue to thrive and become home to even more species.

He said: 'It's remarkable to see the transformation that this work is already making for habitats and wildlife in the reserve.

'The numbers of rare plants and insects have gone up and more breeding birds are making their home here. We're hoping that some of the lost species that used to breed here will return - it would be amazing to see cranes and spotted crakes breeding here again.'

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