Warning over Norfolk Broads haven in 'unfavourable decline'

Catfield Fen - one of the top wildlife sites in country

Restoration of Catfield Fen plan to go before Broads Authority - Credit: James Bass

The RSPB is seeking planning permission to carry out work to revive a conservation area on the Norfolk Broads which it says is in "unfavourable decline".

The charity has raised concerns about the state of Catfield Fen, which lies in the Ant valley, between Ludham and Stalham, and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

It is seeking permission from the Broads Authority for a series of works to combat acidification of the water caused by an increase in sphagnum moss and peat moss.

Experts say this is harming the area's natural wildlife and want to remove moss and peat, and dig ditches to improve drainage.

The land concerned is owned by the Butterfly Trust and managed by the RSPB.

The wider area has been at the centre of an ongoing legal battle - which began more than a decade ago - involving Tim and Geli Harris, who own part of the fen.

They argue that the abstraction of water from the area for agriculture is damaging to the environment.

Fen Orchid Picture: Andrew Jeffery

Fen Orchid Picture: Andrew Jeffery

A Broads Authority report into the RSPB application said: "Planning permission is sought for a variety of measures to improve the drainage of the site and reduce its acidity in order to return the site characteristics to favourable SSSI status.

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"These works include the restoration of ditches and the removal of sphagnum, scrub stumps and additional peat to restore wet fen in discrete areas of fen particularly affected by acidification."

Three reasons have been given for the changes in conditions: unsustainable levels of groundwater abstraction, poor management of surface water and accumulation of peat.

On Friday, the Broads Authority's planning team will consider the application, which has been recommended for approval subject to Natural England being satisfied with the plans.

While removing peat can lead to the release of climate-harming carbon dioxide, the report to authority members said the importance of conservation outweighed the impacts of removal.

The Norfolk Wildlife Trust has described the fen as a "hidden gem" filled with "some of the rarest species in the country" including swallowtail butterflies.

The scheme as originally submitted had been on a larger scale, however, it was scaled back in response to representations made by a neighbouring landowner, Natural England, and the Broads Authority (BA) ecology team.