£500k project creates new Broads wetland for bitterns and marsh harriers
Conservationists and contractors are celebrating the transformation of a former Broads grazing marsh into a new wetland habitat for breeding birds including rare bitterns and marsh harriers.
The £500,000 project has added 100 acres of wetland – including 50 acres of reedbed – near Potter Heigham, which will now be overseen by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT).
The land, between the River Thurne and Candle Dyke, was purchased by the Environment Agency to compensate for the anticipated loss of reed beds on the Suffolk coast due to future sea level rise and coastal erosion.
Perimeter banks and ditches were initially constructed by Fen Group in 2013 and 2014, and the project has now been completed following five weeks of work by William Morfoot Ltd, a land drainage firm based in Shipdham, near Dereham.
More than 25,000 cubic metres of soil, weighing 50,000 tonnes, was excavated to create seven deep-water pools, linked to the internal perimeter ditch, which are intended to provide a habitat for fish, which can become prey for the bittern.
The resulting spoil was spread over the neighbouring land to create scrapes and ridges in a landscape which has already been used by marsh harriers for hunting, as well as prompting sightings of barn owls, a long-eared owl and a flock of more than 400 lapwings.
More than 40,000 reeds have been planted around each of the seven pools to create the ideal feeding habitat for bitterns. The water level in the network of reed-filled ditches, which comes from Hickling Broad, is controlled through a network of sluices and drains.
John Blackburn, Upper Thurne warden for the NWT, said: “We hope that within five years there will be fairly extensive reed cover. We want those reed-fringed water courses and ponds to have fish and invertebrates in them, but the target is to have a bittern and a marsh harrier nest.”
The site is close to the Hickling National Nature Reserve and land owned by the National Trust. A circular path off the Weavers’ Way allows the public to walk around its perimeter.
“It is not to be seen isolation,” said Mr Blackburn. “This is just a small percentage of the habitat, but it is filling a gap between our landholding and the National Trust’s landholding and, while it is replacing habitats lost in Suffolk that were no longer defendable from the sea, we hope this one will last for the next 50 years.”
Justin Morfoot, a director of William Morfoot Ltd, said: “A lot of planning has gone into this. When you think that the natural water level of the Broads around the site is 10m, the ground level here on the marsh is 9m and the level for the ponds is 1.5m below that, it needs a lot of planning and pumps to be able to use machines in an environment like that. And it is not a straight-forward drainage job – it has to look like a natural landscape.”
Managing director Tim Sisson added: “There are huge sensitivities around a project of this kind. Careful planning and working incredibly closely with NWT and the Environment Agency has enabled us to enhance the natural habitat for these rare bird species.”
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