Booming success story at Hickling
The board showing wildlife sightings at Hickling Broad tells a satisfying story.
Growing numbers of visitors to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) reserve are experiencing the thrill of hearing and glimpsing the elusive bittern for the first time.
During May, booming males could be heard, while over the summer there have been sightings of the shy wading bird flying back to nests with food.
NWT conservation manager Reg Land recalled it was quite a different story as recently as 1997 when not a single bittern had been sighted at Hickling in 20 years.
The triumph of conservation – resulting in Hickling becoming home to three of the country's 80 recorded male bitterns – is the fruit of a �500,000 restoration project which created a new network of dykes and open water on the reserve's once dry Hundred Acre reedbed.
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Ten years after the completion of that scheme was celebrated with a visit by the Prince of Wales, the reserve is poised to embark on the next stage of its masterplan for the site.
Work funded by a soon-to-be announced �250,000 grant is to start in the autumn on raising the water level over a further 100-acre section of the reserve.
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A drain from neighbouring farmland to the river has been diverted ahead of the scheme, which will take two years to complete and involve a bank being built around the entire site to keep in water which will be channelled in from the broad.
Mr Land, who has worked for NWT for nearly 20 years, said: 'Our aim is to make every square inch of the 1,200 site work for wildlife.
'We also want to create an even better wildlife show for our increasing number of visitors.'
He explained that the new area of dry reedbed to be tackled would become a wildlife haven once the water level had been raised by 2ft to 3ft.
The water level would be allowed to fluctuate naturally, partially drying out in the summer, and the site would be managed by grazing highland cattle.
He said: 'We hope we will make more space for bitterns and attract more cranes which already breed here most years; there are currently fewer than 10 pairs in the Broads.'
The open pools created by the new scheme would also attract a host of other wild birds – from ducks to waders – which the public could enjoy.
He said the swallowtail butterfly population on the reserve would also be boosted as the change to the habitat would encourage milk parsley, the food plant for the caterpillar.
Over the next few years, NWT would also be working with broadland flood defence contractors Besl to gradually extend the broad behind a new, setback flood wall.