Wildlife trust’s land purchase doubles size of nature reserve
Two halves of an important wildlife site – divided by a river in the Wensum valley – will be reunited after a land purchase aiming to preserve some of Norfolk’s finest wet grasslands.
The Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) has bought the 12-hectare site at Beetley Meadows and the adjoining Beetley Wood, effectively doubling the size of its existing nature reserve at Hoe Rough, near Dereham.
The trust now hopes to link the two sites with a new footbridge across the Whitewater river, a chalk stream tributary of the Wensum, to improve the access for both visitors and the grazing cattle which are crucial to the management of the two Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).
NWT nature conservation manager at Steve Collin said Beetley meadows is a particularly fine example of a wet meadow habitat. Springs emerging from the valley sides and variations in the acidity and dampness of the underlying soils have create ideal conditions for an exceptional range of grassland plants, including five species of orchids: early marsh, common spotted, southern marsh, green-winged and twayblade.
“It really is rather special on that side of the river,” he said. “The southern marsh orchids are some of the best shows I have seen anywhere.
“These bits of land are both very special SSSIs in their own right and a beautiful chalk stream runs between them, which is a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good corridor, and a lot of wildlife is happy with the river, but it does prove to be a barrier for people and livestock.
“Predominantly the management out here is grazing, mainly cattle. Sometimes it is difficult to attract external graziers to the site and a big part of it is the inconvenience of moving cattle from one side to the other. To link them with a bridge will mean you can manage livestock with a gate system rather than having to load them up and move them around.
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“The beauty of that is you can rest the ground within a few days of knowing you want the cows moved. There are elements of wetland in here so it can get pretty wet and we use very low grazing densities of around 10 cows.
“But it comes with another bonus, which is public access. It will be a dual-purpose bridge which means you can walk from this site to the other site. You can do a whole walk without having to go on the road, so it is a great way of linking two sites.
“And by making them into one single nature reserve, it starts to become a significant ecological unit.”
The £31,500 purchase of Beetley Meadow was made possible thanks to a “generous legacy gift” to the NWT, plus support from Anglian Water’s Flourishing Environment Fund and the Banister Charitable Trust.
The acquisition is part of a concerted effort to link up nature-rich sites in Mid Norfolk. There are 21 designated wildlife sites along almost five miles of the river “corridor” including Dereham Stream, Wendling Beck and the Whitewater – forming a rare chalk stream habitat which is home to otters, water voles and river water crowsfoot.
Of these 21 sites, NWT now owns three of the four SSSIs: Potters and Scarning, Rush Meadows (jointly with Anglian Water) and Beetley and Hoe Meadows. The remaining 17 sites are designated as County Wildlife Sites, four of which are owned by the trust and the rest privately owned but with management advice from NWT.
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Mr Collin added: “We have been focussed on the Mid-Norfolk landscape to restore areas where we can along the river corridor habitats, including the purchase of Rushmeadows in 2013, and management of a County Wildlife Site next to NWT Scarning Fen.
“We are working hard to create ecological links between these isolated nature reserves by working with neighbouring landowners and increasing the size of existing reserves when the opportunities to do so arise.”
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