Spring Fling success

It was the absolutely "must-have" badge for visitors to the seventh annual Spring Fling - a seven-foot high bundle of Norfolk-grown reed.Reed dresser David Jenkin, who is based at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust's reserve at Hickling, had brought a large supply of home-grown material for the demonstration and plenty of string.

It was the absolutely "must-have" badge for visitors to the seventh annual Spring Fling - a seven-foot high bundle of Norfolk-grown reed.

Reed dresser David Jenkin, who is based at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust's reserve at Hickling, had brought a large supply of home-grown material for the demonstration and plenty of string.

With two colleagues, they prepared more than 800 ties from reels of sisal before thousands of youngsters flooded into the countryside area. Then, for almost four hours, they were kept frantically busy as many of the 4,400 visitors queued for the unofficial Spring Fling badge - a bundle of Norfolk reed.

Mr Jenkin, who is based at the 1500-acre Hickling Broad reserve, also helps to look after the 30 acres of commercial reed beds.

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He was assisted by Maurice Funnell, who lives in Norwich, and has spent a day a week for the past three years helping him with the key long-term restoration work.

Another enthusiast, Jamie Damerel, who lives in Hickling, has just returned for a second work placement at the reserve after studying for a first qualification in conservation and environmental studies at Easton College.

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Norfolk Wildlife Trust has been heavily involved in the long-term project to restore the quality of the habitat at Hickling by encouraging the conditions for endangered and recovering species like the bittern. Mr Jenkin said that the speed of the recovery of the habitat, and especially some reedbeds, has been very encouraging.

An initial 10-year programme had been set in place but within a couple of years, breeding bitterns had returned. Since then they had been a constant feature much to the delight of the trust and, of course, birding enthusiasts.

Mr Jenkin, who was dressing the reed into lengths, had brought more material than previous years. When working commercially, he could produce about 21 bundles an hour taking into account preparation time.

The traditional breeds of farm animals including the two Highland heifers from the Wayland Prison fold were also popular. Andy Davis, livestock instructor at Wayland, near Watton, said that the fold had expanded to a total of 10 Highlands. There were also 30 Norfolk Horn sheep, which were looked after by prisoners during their time at the jail.

Peter Churchyard, of Breckles, near Thetford, had brought along a Large Black sow and her litter of eight piglets for the display by the East Anglian support group of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. The visitors were clearly fascinated by the length and bulk of the sow.

The display of pigeons by the King's Lynn Fur and Feather Society was one of the hits on the showground event almost rivalled by the fascinating apppeal of the fancy rats.

John Elsdon, chairman, who brought some of the 38 species of pigeons, was celebrating his 60th year as a fancier. He had travelled from his Spalding home to support the event, which also included a special "pigeon petting" area for youngsters to stroke carefully-selected birds.

At one stage, and despite closing the display for an hour at lunchtime to give the pigeons a break, there was a queue of between 30 and 40 youngsters waiting patiently to spend four or five minutes with the birds.

Diane Vorndran, from Stowmarket, provided many of the hand-reared birds. She has specialised in the past seven years as a breeder of "Nun" pigeons, which have a distinctive raised white collar or wimple.

"They are very difficult to rear and I think that I'm one of only 10 breeders in the country," said Mrs Vorndran.

Mr Elsdon said that the society is keen to encourage younger enthusiasts to consider keeping pigeons. "It really does infuriate me when pigeons are just described as flying rats. These are very special birds and some are incredibly rare and unusual. In other parts of the world, keeping pigeons is highly regarded and popular.

"It is not just a case of keeping racing pigeons. It is a hobby which is relatively inexpensive and almost anyone who is prepared to make an effort can really enjoy," he said.

Nearby, a display by Norfolk Poultry Club of the hatching chicks was endlessly fascinating. Roland Axman, of Brisley, and colleagues had brought more unusual species including Norfolk Greys. And farmer David Perowne, of Top Farm, Great Snoring, had a small pen of quail on display.

The focus on food included a display of sausage making by Harleston butcher Terry Beales, who brought 300lbs of pork from farmer Jimmy Butler. His team of helpers were at full stretch as Pauline Butler, Margaret Tuck and Jean Turnbull cooked thousands of sausages.

One of the other popular features was the pea tasting with Gary Rackham and colleagues, who cooked bowls of peas almost non-stop. They asked the youngsters to vote for the tastiest and the winner by a margin of seven to one was the garden pea from Birds Eye.

The Birds Eye pea car, which featured in the television advertisement, was another draw. Visitors were fascinated that it doesn't have an engine.

The expanded countryside area, which involved half a dozen gamekeepers from Norfolk estates, was popular. Visitors, who arrived by the tractor and trailer service provided by the 20-strong team led by Hemsby farmer Simon Daniels, heard about the impact of predators on wildlife and game birds.

Staff from the Environment Agency brought two tanks of locally-caught coarse fish to promote awareness. "It is part of our role to promote knowledge of our freshwater fisheries," said Tom Howard, who is ecological appraisals officer for Norfolk and North Suffolk.

"I didn't become interested in fishing until I was 12 or 13. We're helping youngsters to learn more about fish and their environment," he added.

The fish, including a five-inch long pike were due to be returned to the River Wensum after the Spring Fling.

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