Bid to make Fens internationally-important landscape

What are the key issues for Broadland's voters? Pictured is RSPB Strumpshaw Fen nature reserve near

Fens Biosphere proposal could see areas in west Norfolk, including Downham Market, given UNESCO status. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2016

The Fens could be declared an internationally-important landscape to promote conservation and tourism.

Fens Biosphere is applying to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to join Britain's seven existing biospheres, which include the Isle of Wight, Brighton and Lewes Downs, North Devon, Isle of Man, Galloway and Southern Ayrshire, Wester Ross and Biosffer Dyfi.

The group's vision could give areas including parts of west Norfolk UNESCO 'Biosphere' status by recognising the Fens as a unique and valuable area.

And those involved in discussions locally believe it will benefit west Norfolk by highlighting the landscape and boosting tourism.

The Fens Biosphere is currently developing the proposals after obtaining funding from the People's Postcode Lottery Dream Fund, and those behind the plans said it could bring economic and social value to the area.

The Ouse Washes in all their glory. Picture: PAUL CONSTABLE

The Ouse Washes. - Credit: Archant

Mark Nokkert, who is a member of the Fens Biosphere partnership steering group, said they have been in contact with West Norfolk Council (WNC) about the proposals, who are also keen to get Downham Market and the surrounding landscape promoted as part of the Fens Biosphere ‘package.'

He added: "We see Downham Market as one of the key market towns, as gateways to the landscape.

Downham Market town clock. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Downham Market town clock. Picture: Matthew Usher.

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"The geography is not just about the Fens itself, but also about the land and communities that have a connection with this, whether through shared identity, economic or environmental links."

The group ran a two-month public consultation on the draft geographical boundaries at the start of the year, which could see further parishes in west Norfolk included in the plans to "reflect those links even better."

In order to process with the proposal of nominating an area to UNESCO for the Biosphere status it needs to be officially endorsed by all local authorities involved.

Mr Nokkert added: "As a non-statutory designation authorities have nothing to lose, and experience from UK Biospheres and those abroad make it clear that authorities and communities, as well as organisations and businesses only gain from being in a Biosphere."

The Fens near Wissington. Picture; Matthew Usher.

The Fens near Wissington. Picture; Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

The idea will be presented at a Downham Market Town Council meeting on Tuesday, April 13.

Downham Market deputy mayor Jenny Groom said the Fens Biosphere project is the "natural progression" from the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership that the town council were part of. 

She added: "On a personal level I am delighted that Downham has been included in the area.

"I see us as a gateway to the Fens, geologically we have always been the solid ground which edged and helped to contain the Fens and I feel that it is only fitting that we continue to do so. 

"If the bid is successful, we will be a part of an internationally protected site. This can only be of benefit to the town.

"The Fens are a man-made landscape and to survive into the future we who live here must be aware, understand and work with the fragile dynamic of landscape preservation, food production, the local wildlife, human activity, building work and sustainability."

She said the project was a way for that idea to be developed and sustained, and the involvement of the local community in the process can "only be positive."

Elizabeth Nockolds, deputy leader of WNC, said: “The Fens has so much to offer for our tourists as well as west Norfolk residents.

Councillor Elizabeth Nockolds. Picture: Ian Burt

Elizabeth Nockolds, Deputy leader of West Norfolk Council. - Credit: Archant

"There are many walking trails and easy cycling areas which pass through interesting villages.

"For those who enjoy bird watching and wild flowers and grasses there is an abundance of varieties to view together with wide skies and waterways.

Farmer Joe Martin, of Ouse Bridge Farm, Denver Sluice is chairman of Norfolk Farm Conservation. He i

The proposal involves giving global recognition to a unique and valuable area. - Credit: IAN BURT

"The nearby market town of Downham Market is on the main London line which helps towards connecting the Fens to the wider population.”

The steering group plans to submit a nomination to UNESCO before September or September next year, following discussions with WNC to work with the partnership.

The borough council's tourism manager also joined the steering group last year.

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