Common row sees fences return

RICHARD BATSON An orchid-speckled slice of tranquil countryside has, deceptively, also been a bitter battleground.Locals were split over whether the unspoiled common should have grazing animals penned in, or a fence-free area for walkers to explore.

RICHARD BATSON

An orchid-speckled slice of tranquil countryside has, deceptively, also been a bitter battleground.

Locals were split over whether the unspoiled common should have grazing animals penned in, or a fence-free area for walkers to explore.

And in a bizarre twist to an already-tangled saga over how it should be managed, council officials - who five years ago tore down fencing from the common - will soon be putting them back up again.

The fences at Thwaite Common near Cromer came down after pressure from campaigners, backed by the findings of a government inspector.

But without the fences, and the grazing animals they controlled, plant life on the wetland meadow has

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sprouted up - suffocating

the rare orchids in their midst.

Within weeks North Norfolk District Council will set

about putting up temporary fences to enable part of the common to be mown by munching animals once more.

Thwaite Common nestles down a byroad between Alby and Erpingham. It is designated a county wildlife site because of its rich flora and fauna.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust conservation officer Helen Baczkowska said grazing was vital to stop the reeds and scrub strangling the wild flowers, including the stunning magenta-purple southern marsh orchid, and the common spotted and marsh spotted varieties.

It was possible to combine fencing with access, but the trust would want to see any solution staying within the law.

Animals have grazed on the area for 50 years, and even when the land was formally registered as a common in the 1960s, the animal fences stayed up.

But around the millennium there was a vocal campaign against the fencing from some locals who wanted free access to the beauty spot.

Protesters staged walks and suggested installation of cattle grids instead but the former management committee said they were too expensive.

An earlier bid to get permission for fencing was turned down after a public inquiry by a government inspector, who said there was "no substantial evidence" that lack of it would lead to a halt in grazing.

The fences finally came down in 2001, while management of the common switched to a committee under the wing of the district council.

Council countryside and parks manager Paul Ingham said the local consensus was now overwhelmingly in favour of fencing, and the scheme of regulation, setting out how the common should be managed, allowed for temporary fencing to be put up, without government permission, to help the common revive.

The cabinet agreed to back seeking a change to the document, which would allow fencing of a "more permanent nature." Mr Ingham said the fencing was likely to happen inside weeks, in a bid to get cattle on the area for a full season of grazing.

Resident Stephen Jordan, who had to find new homes for his three ponies when the fences came down, said he supported he idea of grazing.

He had been told by Defra that the council could only fence in land to rest it - which he felt meant "keeping animals off, not on" and was concerned the council was trying to reinstate the fences "by the back door."

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