£1.5m for wildlife gem

A wildlife and conservation gem in the heart of The Broads will be safeguarded for future generations if the RSPB can raise the £1.5m purchase price.

A wildlife and conservation gem in the heart of The Broads will be safeguarded for future generations if the RSPB can raise the £1.5m purchase price.

It is a once in a generation opportunity to secure 365 acres of species-rich grassland, marsh and fen of the highest calibre in Broadland.

Sutton Fen, near Stalham, which is upstream of Barton Broad, has breeding bitterns and a stunning array of other birds, insects and plants.

It is also home to other classic Broads insects including Norfolk hawker dragonflies and swallowtail butterflies.

If successful, it will protect one of the finest examples of unpolluted valley fen in western Europe and also one of Britain's most important sites for nature conservation.

While birds, including a native population of Cranes, which breed on a neighbouring farm are vital, Sutton Fen has two of the largest colonies of fen orchid in the country.

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Martin George, who is a former chairman of the Broads Society, and a noted author on Broadland, said: "Sutton Fen is a top-notch site - one of the best and most species-diverse wetland sites in Britain."

Rob Andrews, who is conservation officer with the Broads Authority and has known Sutton Fen for 25 years, is delighted that the RSPB is hoping to buy it.

"It is one of the most important wetland sites in the UK with an exceptional interest for flowers, birds and invertebrates that, I am sure, would be very well safeguarded as an RSPB reserve.

"Sutton Fen would also be a valuable base to expand the area of protected land in years to come to include some of the interesting adjacent wetland and marginal habitat, which in time would produce a large area for wildlife," added Mr Andrews.

On the upper reaches of the River Ant, Sutton Fen has species including marsh harriers, garganey ducks and Cetti's warblers.

It is also one of the few sites in eastern England with a population of breeding bitterns which is not threatened by sea level rise.

The fen is a haven for plants once found all across The Broads but now much restricted in range, including greater water parsnip, holly-leaved naiad and milk parsley, the last the food plant for caterpillars of the swallowtail butterfly.

Ian Robinson, who is The Broads area manager for the RSPB, said: "As a life-long conservation professional, I've never been so excited about the prospect of buying land for RSPB stewardship. An opportunity as extraordinary as this is unlikely to come about again in our lifetimes."

Sutton Fen is an exceptionally diverse species-rich fen within the heartland of The Broads.

It is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area and candidate Special Area of Conservation.

Support for the RSPB's purchase of Sutton Fen include the Broads Authority, the Broads Reed and Sedge Cutters Association, Butterfly Conservation, the King's Lynn Consortium of Internal Drainage Boards, National Trust, Natural England and Plantlife.

The farmer David King, who is selling the land, has been very sympathetic to nature conservation and, during the last 10 years, the Broads Authority and English Nature (now part of Natural England) have funded and put into effect large-scale restoration and management to recover the species diversity in some of the

more neglected areas of the fen.

More work will be needed to enhance these areas, including expanding the present sedge-cutting operation and creating more "turf ponds" - small flooded areas within the fen.

Grazing with a fold of Highland cattle will continue.

Commercial sedge and reed cutters are involved in managing the site.

Sedge is currently cut on a four-year rotation with one quarter of the available sedge being removed each year. This sedge-cutting regime is commercially viable, with the sedge being used for thatching.

The restoration and ongoing management of sedge beds will continue in order to create extra habitat features to support some of the key species found at Sutton Fen (and in the Ant valley) and provide a continuous supply of sedge for thatching.

The potential purchase totals 170 hectares (365 acres) consisting of 139ha of fen

and 31ha of organic grass-land.

The RSPB currently manages 1,676ha in The Broads. This centres on the Mid Yare nature reserves (803ha), Berney Marshes/Breydon Water nature reserves (844ha) and How Hill Fen (29ha).

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