Important mid Norfolk common opens up

Important heathland in a mid Norfolk village has been opened up after a fence was removed by volunteers.

The wood and wire barrier, which ran along part of Litcham Common, was taken down after two cattle grids were put in the Great Dunham road.

The main road through the village to Great Dunham runs through the 60-acre area of heathland.

Following consent from the Secretary of State for Environment in 2007, the fence was put up in anticipation of four Dartmoor ponies.

The animals - Simon, George, Lucky and Freedom - were introduced to the nature reserve in 2008 to graze and improve the biodiversity of the heathland habitat.

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Despite the fence, dog walkers, walkers and nature enthusiasts were able to access the common, which includes three varieties of heather.

The Open Spaces Society objected to the fence and members of Litcham Parish Council said they preferred the area without the barrier.

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The consent for the fence was due to last 10 years, but the idea for cattle grids near the common was initially thought up in 2001.

Litcham Common Management Committee received �100,000 from the SITA Trust, which supports community environmental improvement projects, and smaller grants from the county council, Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership and individuals.

This money was used to install the grids between July and August after consent for the grids was granted by the county council last year.

Tim Angell, chairman of the management committee, said: 'The grazing has been very successful. The ponies really keep the vegetation under control and are popular with people visiting the common.

'I think the cattle grids look great. A lot of people have said it looks really nice. It is really positive.'

He added: 'We are only a small group of local people, so this has been a huge project for us to take on, and would never have been possible without the support of SITA Trust. We have also received help and advice from lots of other people over the past few years, for which we are very grateful. It was 2005 when we first seriously started pursuing the plans for grazing; there have been a lot of hurdles to overcome on the way, so it is very exciting to see things finally come together.'

One long standing local resident and volunteer is John Mitchell, who remembers the common well from the 1940s:

'It was far more open then' he recalls 'with very few trees, although quite a bit of gorse. It will be nice to see it looking more like it used to. The ponies certainly do a remarkable job munching through the vegetation and they will have no trouble opening up the overgrown paths. A lot has happened over the past few months with the trees being felled, fencing going up and now the cattle grids in. It has been good to give work to local businesses and they have all done a damn good job. I think the lads from May Gurney who put in the grids have enjoyed doing something a bit different.'

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