Bid to bring fens back home again

Fenland birds such as snipe, reed and sedge warblers and reed buntings could soon be flourishing on a restored area of land on the Norfolk/Suffolk border.

Fenland birds such as snipe, reed and sedge warblers and reed buntings could soon be flourishing on a restored area of land on the Norfolk/Suffolk border.

The award-winning Little Ouse Headwaters Project (LOHP) yesterday outlined its vision to restore 5.3 hectares of land at Thelnetham to its former glory, paving the way for the growth of fen vegetation and encouraging the colonisation of fenland birds.

In October the LOHP purchased two parcels of land next to the river, which have been named Parker's Piece and Bleyswyck's Bank after their former owners, who were keen to see the land restored for wildlife and the enjoyment of local people.

The project set itself the task of raising £180,000 to restore the land, which has been unmanaged for many years, and it has already raised more than £110,000 towards this target - much through its River Link fundraising appeal.


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Donations have also come from a number of charitable trusts and other bodies including St Edmundsbury Borough Council; Plantlife, the national plant conservation charity, which is working closely on the project; The Tubney Charitable Trust; the J Paul Getty Jr Foundation; and the Kirby Laing Foundation.

The LOHP is currently working on detailed plans for the restoration of the sites and work is due to start early next year.

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The group's chairman, Jo-Anne Pitt said: “Fifty years ago, the area was still fenland, with a huge variety of plants and animals. Since then, conversion to arable agriculture, pig farming and planting of Scots pines, followed more recently by complete lack of any management, has resulted in the loss of most of these species.”

She said that initial tasks would include improving access across drainage ditches and clearing an area of Scots pine, planted around 25 years ago, on deep peat soils, in order to re-create species-rich fen habitats.

The plans also involve excavating shallow pools or “scrapes” on the cleared land to lower the surface, creating wetter conditions to promote the growth of fen vegetation and encouraging fenland birds such as snipe, reed and sedge warblers and reed buntings.

Dr Pitt said: “Neither of the sites had any public access in the past but as soon as initial major works are completed we will be establishing new footpaths through them. These will link with existing footpaths in the area to form new, circular walks. As on the other sites we manage, information about the sites will be provided on boards inset into distinctive sculptured oak trunks made by local artists.”

The LOHP is a community-based project and is managed by a board of trustees drawn from the parishes of Thelnetham, Redgrave and Hinderclay in Suffolk and Blo Norton and South Lopham in Norfolk.

It currently manages about 40 hectares of land adjacent to the river and its aim is to create, over time, a continuous corridor of land along the headwaters of the river that is managed in a way that benefits wildlife and people and helps to preserve the character of the local landscape.

Dr Pitt said that volunteers were vital to the success of the project. “We very much welcome anyone ... to one of our work parties on the second Sunday each month,” she said.

For further information about the project and all forthcoming events, including the group's Christmas Winter Warmer walk on Sunday, visit www.lohp.org.uk

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