Public inquiry into long-running water extraction battle at Catfield Fen is underway

Tim and Geli Harris who own Catfield Fen - one of the top wildlife sites in country - battling to st

Tim and Geli Harris who own Catfield Fen - one of the top wildlife sites in country - battling to stop over-water abstraction that is drying out fen.Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2013

A public inquiry into an eight-year battle over water extraction at fenland described as the 'jewel in the crown' of the Broads is under way.

Tim and Geli Harris who own Catfield Fen - one of the top wildlife sites in country - battling to st

Tim and Geli Harris who own Catfield Fen - one of the top wildlife sites in country - battling to stop over-water abstraction that is drying out fen.Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2013

Tim and Geli Harris started the Save Catfield Fen campaign in 2008 after research suggested the wetland was deteriorating and drying out because of water abstraction by a local farmer.

The couple, who own the eastern half of the reserve, spent the next six years encouraging the Environment Agency (EA) to take action and in 2014 the body refused to renew the farmer's abstraction licence – a decision against which he has since appealed.

A three-week inquiry into the appeal began in Norwich in April and, with all parties agreed that the fen – the remainder of which is managed by RSPB – is deteriorating, will focus on why.

Mr Harris described the fen, near Ludham, as the 'jewel in the crown' of the Broads and said: 'We are pleased that after eight years there is now a public inquiry which airs these issues in public, but we are concerned that is has taken too long to get to this point.


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'The fen – and the wider Broads network – is a special and unique place, and it is considered to be the finest unpolluted fen in western Europe.

'It is vital that it is protected and the species living there, including the swallowtail butterfly, are too.'

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When groundwater is removed, and replaced by rainfall, it affects the pH balance of the land and

can harm wildlife in the area, in

this case including the rare fen orchid.

The Catfield case is said to have lasted longer than any other on abstraction and has attracted huge public response – and is viewed by some as a test for future disputes.

Paul Hammett, water resources national specialist at the National Farmers Union, said: 'Norfolk is, of course, one of the most important agricultural counties in the UK and makes a significant contribution to our national food security.

'Farmers and growers rely on a consistent supply of wholesome water for a range of uses across a number of very different sectors including crop irrigation, livestock drinking, dairy unit hygiene and salad crop washing.

'Abstracted water is an essential ingredient for vegetable production in the county.'

The inquiry will continue this month, with a decision expected on the appeal in a few weeks' time.

Do you have a Broads story we should be covering? Email correspondent Lauren Cope on lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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