Norfolk nature reserve stars with Mark Rylance and Sophie Okonedo in BBC radio drama

Song of the Reed

Sophie Okonedo and Mark Rylance star, alongside Strumpshaw Fen, in Song Of The Reed. - Credit: Dave Guttridge

The enchanting nature reserve of Strumpshaw Fen stars alongside actors Mark Rylance and Sophie Okonedo in a flagship BBC Radio 4 drama series this Christmas.

The program, Song of the Reed, was recorded on location at the RSPB site and tells the story of a set of characters connected to the reserve, as well as the wildlife which is found there.

It was written by Steve Waters, professor of scriptwriting at the University of East Anglia. The series also features UEA graduates Molly Naylor and Ella Dorman-Gajic among the cast, alongside Rylance - star of Dunkirk and Wolf Hall - and  Okonedo - from Hotel Rwanda and His Dark Materials.

Strumpshaw Fen

Strumpshaw Fen. - Credit: Denise Bradley

Song of the Reed consists of four episodes - one for each season - all recorded at Stumpshaw, which stands in for the fictional Norfolk wetlands reserve of Fleggwick.

The story is informed by the sounds of the reserve, as well as the real work and science of conservation taking place in the face of rapid environmental change.

When ecologist Max Godwin (loosely based on legendary Norfolk naturalist Ted Ellis, who developed his own nature reserve at nearby Wheatfen) dies, his daughter, Liv (Okonedo) comes home to wind up his affairs.

Her chief obstacle in achieving this is Max’s reserve warden Ian George (Rylance).

Steve Waters

Prof Steve Waters, from the University of East Anglia. - Credit: submitted

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Speaking earlier this year, writer Prof Waters, said: "For all the human drama between them as they straddle the fault-lines of modern Britain, the core story is the fate of 50 hectares of reedbed and Broadland, fen meadow and carr, and the 10,000 species resident in its midst."

Each episode focuses on one of the species represented at the fen, with the first one, which was broadcast in June, focusing on the Swallowtail butterfly.

The autumn episode, from September, featured the tiny Whirlpool Ramshorn Snail, while the latest, winter, episode revolves around the eel. The final episode will run in the spring.

Molly Naylor.

Molly Naylor. - Credit: robin mair

For UEA graduates Ms Naylor and Ms Dorman-Gajic, it was a chance to work with actors at the top of their game.

Ms Dorman-Gajic said: "I've watched both of them [Rylance and Okonedo] on screen for years, so the experience was both totally surreal and utterly incredible."

She admitted that while studying for a BA in scriptwriting and performance at the UEA, she had not heard of Strumpshaw Fen until after her 2019 graduation.

She said: "I really wish I had done because it is such a beautiful place. I hope that the radio drama encourages more people from UEA and Norwich to go visit."

Walkers at Strumpshaw Fen.

Walkers at Strumpshaw Fen. - Credit: Denise Bradley

Song of the Reed: Eel will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 2.15pm on Tuesday, December 21

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