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Norfolk’s celebration of nature

Logo: Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Reserves Officer at Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Robert Morgan

NWT Cley Marshes is a port of call for many birders and the birthplace of Wildlife Trusts in the UK (Richard Osbourne)
NWT Cley Marshes is a port of call for many birders and the birthplace of Wildlife Trusts in the UK (Richard Osbourne)

On 27 July Norfolk Wildlife Trust joined with other organisations to celebrate ‘Norfolk Day’. This annual event was an opportunity for people to rejoice in their favourite aspects of the county. NWT also took the opportunity to ask people to join us in celebration of the counties natural heritage.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust has been celebrating the county’s natural heritage since its founding in 1926, when a group of like-minded individuals came together and raised money to purchase Cley Marshes on the North Norfolk coast. The notion of land purchase solely for the protection of wildlife was revolutionary at the time and in the following decades many counties formed similar Trusts. We are rightly proud that Norfolk has the oldest Wildlife Trust and at more than 35,000 members, is one of the biggest.

Naturalists, and bird-watchers in particular, have known the value of the county for over a hundred years. With the Norfolk coast jutting out into the North Sea towards continental Europe has made it a hot-spot for rare migrant birds, a pilgrimage to Cley nature reserve is every young twitcher’s right-of-passage.

Purple emperor butterfly, recently returned to the restored Foxley Wood (Barry Madden)
Purple emperor butterfly, recently returned to the restored Foxley Wood (Barry Madden)

For few other counties have such a diversity of habitats so close to each other. Norfolk has beaches, dunes and salt marshes sitting cheek by jowl with ancient woodland, heaths and flower rich grassland. Crystal clear chalk streams flow in the north and west of the county and in the east are the wide slow rivers and flooded ancient peat workings of the famous Norfolk Broads. The south of the county holds the unique steppe like habitats of the Brecklands, where pingo ponds, formed during the last ice age, have continued to hold spring water since the glaciers retreated. Because of the antiquity of Thompson Common’s pingo ponds they form a wildlife time capsule, holding numerous species lost from much of Britain.

Volunteer at Roydon Common (Norfolk Wildlife Trust)
Volunteer at Roydon Common (Norfolk Wildlife Trust)

In fact, Norfolk’s diverse habitats hold many of the UK’s rarest species. Along with the iconic swallowtail butterfly the Norfolk Broads vast reed-beds are incredibly species rich, with milk parsley, crested buckler fern and small dotted footman moth being found virtually nowhere else; and of course we have our very own dragonfly, the Norfolk hawker. Norfolk’s heathlands, containing the rare natterjack toad, are nationally important and a great deal of work has been carried out to improve and expand these sites. The Brecks, containing heathland, ancient grassland and forestry has a string of unique and vulnerable species, and at Roydon Common there sits an internationally important valley mire that is impressively biologically rich.

For over ninety years our members and supporters have helped us achieve so much. There have been incredible long-term projects, such as the conversion of Foxley Wood back to a nationally-important wildlife rich woodland after being used as a commercial conifer plantation for decades. This work was given the seal of approval last year by the return of purple emperor butterflies, the first sightings there for forty years.

Aviva staff enjoying a corporate volunteer day at NWT Hickling Broad (Norfolk Wildlife Trust)
Aviva staff enjoying a corporate volunteer day at NWT Hickling Broad (Norfolk Wildlife Trust)

We have continued to purchase important sites and expand and develop our existing reserves. Upton Fen, already noted for its unique flora, was extended with the purchase of adjacent grazing marshes and arable fields. The ability to control water levels, improve the dyke systems and carry out conservation grazing by cattle has meant threatened breeding birds such as redshank and lapwing are thriving. Wildfowl are also benefiting and large flocks of ducks and wild geese can be seen in winter.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust manages and protects these habitats on over sixty nature reserves, we give wildlife conservation advice, provide educational services - particularly for the young, and hold wildlife-based entertainment and information events at our reserves and five visitor centres. The Trust also has hundreds of volunteers that have proved indispensable, and we would struggle to function without them. The volunteer jobs range from working in our visitor centres, practical conservation work on the reserves that includes important survey and monitoring work, livestock checking and care, helping with education and events, and carrying out essential administration work at our headquarters in Norwich. We have connected with other stakeholders and have worked hard on build relationships. Our corporate sponsors have contributed valuable resources particularly the time of their employees. The corporate ‘challenge days’ have been vital, covering tasks such as clearing scrub, cutting reed beds and maintaining footpaths and boardwalks. It is always rewarding when a volunteer from a local company returns with their family to see how their work has improved our nature reserves.

During the period of lockdown many people re-connected with nature and developed or re-ignited an appreciation of our wildlife. So, at Norfolk Wildlife Trust we are making it our priority to link with them and encourage this to continue. ‘Norfolk Day’ was a chance for us to take time to pause and take stock. We had an opportunity to engage with new devotees, but also have a brief moment for the converted to celebrate some great achievements and look forward to future ones.

www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk

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