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How to make Norfolk's wildlife count

PUBLISHED: 10:19 12 February 2018

A biolblitz in action at Train Wood. Picture: Gemma Walker/NWT

A biolblitz in action at Train Wood. Picture: Gemma Walker/NWT

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Over the past two years, volunteers across Norfolk have been busy recording wildlife on open access land and churchyards as part of Norfolk Wildlife Trust's County Wildlife Action project, writes conservation officer Helen Baczkowska.

Southern marsh orchids: the volunteers have discovered colonies near Brundall.Southern marsh orchids: the volunteers have discovered colonies near Brundall.

Norfolk County Wildlife Action, a two-year project made possible by National Lottery players thanks to £81,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), set out to recruit, train and support volunteers interested in recording wild species and habitats, encouraging local communities to visit, enjoy and learn about the wildlife on their doorstep.

The surveys focused on churchyards and on specially selected County Wildlife Sites (CWS) – places across Norfolk known to be high value for wildlife. Although most County Wildlife Sites are in private ownership, many have public access and the surveys focused on these, including those where existing records were many years out of date.

County Wildlife Sites and churchyards can be places where we walk or enjoy wildlife, often without realising how important they are for the species that rely on them.

Although many volunteers came with existing skills in identifying wildlife, complete beginners signed up too, so training covered everything from an introduction to wild flowers to the more challenging identification of grasses and mapping habitats, such as woodland, scrub or ponds. Guided walks, whole day surveys known as ‘bioblitz’ events, talks and family days also formed a key part of the project, helping many more people discover wildlife close to home.

Recording local wild species and habitats is crucial to understanding more about the wildlife in our county and developing strategies to help it flourish. At a practical level, surveys gathered as part of County Wildlife Action were used as the basis for management plans to ensure that both County Wildlife Sites and churchyards are well cared for.

All records gathered were also sent on to the Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service (NBIS), meaning that in future they can help wildlife in many different ways, such as through informing construction projects. NWT’s Living Landscape strategies aim to encourage bigger, better habitats for wildlife in some crucial areas of Norfolk and understanding the wildlife value of all sites in these areas is a cornerstone of this work.

Over the two years of County Wildlife Action, an amazing 260 local volunteers carried out surveys at 84 churches and 59 County Wildlife sites, far exceeding the initial targets of the project.

With such a huge volunteer involvement across so many sites, it is hard and perhaps unfair to draw out highlights, although it is exciting to read of the discovery of water voles on the edge of Dereham, swathes of southern marsh orchids near Brundall and fragile plants like meadow saxifrage still flourishing in Norfolk churchyards.

The true highlight of this project has been, of course, the enthusiasm and commitment of everyone who volunteered. It has been truly inspiring to witness people learning about wildlife and then using those skills for a very real contribution to nature conservation in Norfolk.

As the HLF funding ends and the project draws to a close, the impetus is not being lost. Many of the volunteers involved want to carry on recording wildlife on sites close to home and in some cases on other County Wildlife Sites or churchyards where records are still scant; others are starting to tackle the practical care of their local churchyard, rolling up their sleeves to help with the management of the precious meadow flowers that grow there.

If you would like to know more about the places surveyed, information can be found on the NWT website, where an interactive map includes NWT nature reserves, churches and CWS; most are open to be visited, but please check the details on each site first: www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/discover

It is exciting to read of the discovery of water voles on the edge of Dereham, swathes of southern marsh orchids near Brundall and fragile plants like meadow saxifrage still flourishing in Norfolk churchyards.

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