Plans for a major new wetland to extend a flagship nature reserve have been given the go-ahead.

The RSPB has been given planning permission to transform former arable land in the Fens into wet fen, grass and woodland.

The conservation charity says the project, off Cowles Drove at Hockwold, near Brandon, will create a 160-acre extension to its nearby Lakenheath Fen reserve.

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New ditches will create space for plants, invertebrates, fish, water voles, otters and wetland birds, along with "significant additional wetland habitat".

Eastern Daily Press: Part of the Lakenheath Fen reservePart of the Lakenheath Fen reserve (Image: The Brecks Partnership)

In a planning report, the RSPB says: "The raised water levels in these ditches will greatly enhance the habitat for aquatic species. 

"In addition to the biodiversity gains, the rewetting of the relic peat soils will help reduce or eliminate continued carbon loss from the soil, which is a significant contributor to carbon emissions in the Fens."

It adds intensive arable farming can release up to 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per acre per year.

Eastern Daily Press: The extension will provide extra habitat for birds including the rare bitternThe extension will provide extra habitat for birds including the rare bittern (Image: Frances Crickmore)

Lakenheath Fen's 1,000 acres are home to bitterns, cranes, marsh harriers, otters and water voles. 

The site employs five members of staff and has more than 40 volunteers. It attracts up to 25,000 visitors a year, many from outside of the region.

The RSPB says it intends to employ an additional member of staff to assist with the management of the new extension.

It adds: "We hope that the new land and new wildlife will attract new visitors to the reserve and the local area benefitting local tourism businesses."

Grassland included in the scheme will also provide "significant extra grazing" for traditional breeds of cattle.

Work on digging the ditches and banks is set to begin this autumn and be carried out outside of the bird nesting season.