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This hidden gem where wildlife thrives is set to bloom with major expansion

PUBLISHED: 13:53 18 January 2019 | UPDATED: 13:59 18 January 2019

Nigel Middleton, Conservation officer at the Hawk and Owl Trust at Sculthorpe. Picture: Neil Didsbury

Nigel Middleton, Conservation officer at the Hawk and Owl Trust at Sculthorpe. Picture: Neil Didsbury

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A north Norfolk nature reserve is set for a major expansion after years of carrying out vital work protecting birds of prey. DANIEL BENNETT reports...

A quiet corner of Norfolk is bursting with all sorts of birds, insects and mammals.

Sculthorpe Moor, near Fakenham, is lesser known than some of Norfolk’s other larger wildlife reserves, yet is internationally recognised for its work.

A diverse range of wildlife thrives in the reserve’s rich habitat of woodland, fen and reedbeds and, for the those who know and love Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve, it is a place of tranquility and beauty.

taken at sculthorpe moortaken at sculthorpe moor

Now, almost 20 years after opening, the reserve is preparing to undergo a major expansion.

Sculthorpe Moor, which is managed by the Hawk and Owl Trust, has just been awarded £821,700 in Heritage Lottery Funding to go towards this.

The reserve is essential for protecting birds of prey and managing their habitats and the latest funding, which forms part of the £1.7 million Sculthorpe Fen Appeal, will allow the land either side of it to be purchased.

The project will ensure the land is protected from private development, is fully accessible to the public and is managed to ensure wildlife can thrive.

Woodpecker at Sculthorpe moorWoodpecker at Sculthorpe moor

Nigel Middleton, the Hawk and Owl Trust conservation officer for the eastern region and warden at the reserve, established Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve, back in 2001 and said the latest funding will enable a three year project to keep it sustainable.

He said: “We manage habitats to the benefit of birds of prey. For the last couple of years we have had the opportunity to buy the land either side of the reserve.

“We need 25,000 visitors per year to keep it sustainable, that’s what we are aiming for in three years’ time.

“We are heading that way, we’ve gone from quite small numbers to about 17,500 people per year.

Water vole at Sculthorpe moor Water vole at Sculthorpe moor

“The funding will make the difference in that we will have the infrastructure in place to manage the land we are purchasing.”

The trust operates the reserve on land that is owned by the local village and which became established as Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve when Mr Middleton took it on.

Eighteen years later and the reserve is still offering the opportunity to bring people closer to nature.

Before the reserve existed, the land was rented out for shooting but now helps several species of birds including tawny and barn owls, sparrow hawks and kestrels to survive and breed.

Moorhen enjoying a swim around the scrape at Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve.Moorhen enjoying a swim around the scrape at Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve.

Mr Middleton added: “I basically took it on as a project, I approached the Hawk and Owl Trust. It evolved from that and my love of wildlife. From that point forward it’s been about developing the nature reserve.

“We took it on to create this nature reserve with the emphasis on bringing people and nature together. For a small donation people can come in, it’s accessible to everybody.”

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Hawk and Owl Trust charity, which is celebrating its work conserving owls and birds of prey in the wild and increasing knowledge and understanding of them.

The trust operates a number of reserves dedicated to creating and managing nesting, roosting and feeding habitats and carrying out practical research.

Goldfinch at Sculthorpe MoorGoldfinch at Sculthorpe Moor

Mr Middleton said: “The fact it is our anniversary this year means it all feeds in with that. Fifty years as a charity is pretty good going. We are a small charity but we do a lot.

“We know Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve is not as well known. We do a lot but we don’t shout about it very much. People often come here through word of mouth.”

Now, the reserve is looking towards the future with its latest funding set to bring in new staff and training opportunities for young people through a dedicated training centre.

The latest project will last three years and will aim to create a lasting legacy which will see it flourish for years to come.

The current Hawk and Owl trust site at Sculthorpe, and the new land which has been acquired on either side. Picture: Neil DidsburyThe current Hawk and Owl trust site at Sculthorpe, and the new land which has been acquired on either side. Picture: Neil Didsbury

“We’re going to take on apprentices from Easton College. It will take them out of their course to get practical experience” Mr Middleton added.

“We are bringing on more staff, including a community engagement officer to organise events and the income generated from those.

“We have 100 volunteers who do the majority of the work, they put in an equivalent of 2,300 days per annum.

“In three years, the project will be completed then the legacy from that will allow us stay sustainable.”

Sparrowhawks, marsh harriers, barn owls, tawny owls and kestrels all call Sculthorpe fen home. Picture: Neil DidsburySparrowhawks, marsh harriers, barn owls, tawny owls and kestrels all call Sculthorpe fen home. Picture: Neil Didsbury

With intentions to expand and sustain the crucial conservation it provides, the future for Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve certainly looks a bright one.

What can be seen at Sculthorpe Moor?

Tawny and barn owls, kestrels, kingfishers, buzzards, bullfinches, willow and marsh tits, great spotted woodpeckers, tree creepers, water and bank voles, stoats, weasels and otters can be seen at Sculthorpe Moor Community Nature Reserve.

The Sculthorpe Moor Community Nature Reserve. Pictured is the view from the Tower Hide. Picture: Ian BurtThe Sculthorpe Moor Community Nature Reserve. Pictured is the view from the Tower Hide. Picture: Ian Burt

Grass of Parnassus is a rare and spectacular plant that occurs on the damp areas of Sculthorpe Fen.

Careful management will help this and other scarce wild flowers flourish.

Tassel Stonewort, an extremely rare algal water plant, occurs at one of its only UK sites at Sculthorpe Fen.

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