Queen’s Award for Southrepps Commons team

Nature fans who tend a North Norfolk wildlife haven common have been given an award known as the 'MBE for volunteer groups.'

The Southrepps Commons Trust is celebrating having its work recognised with a Queen's Award for Voluntary Service.

The tireless efforts of members maintain the Local Nature Reserve, half of which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the plant life which includes four species of orchid.

Chairman John Houlgate said: 'People are delighted and amazed. This award is for our volunteers, every one of whom deserves to be proud of what they have achieved here and will carry on achieving.

'It shows that a large public amenity can be maintained and even improved by sustained and organised community effort.'

The trust was nominated for the award by the parish council an underwent a detailed assessment.

Mr Houlgate said its educational work had been a factor. The trust had helped create an open air classroom at the nearby Antingham and Southrepps primary school, whose pupils also visit the common. Local scouts were involved with reclaiming a pond last year.

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The trust's education role also saw it running a wildlife survey, encouraging people to discover and record the local flora and fauna.

'We have moved beyond a brief of just cutting the grass,' said Mr Houlgate.

Looking after the 25- acre site demanded a high level of specialised care. Working parties of 15-20 villagers were a regular sight on winter weekends when the heavy work of cutting and clearing the site was done.

It all started in 1990 when a small group of villagers offered to manage the land after the parish inherited it, he explained.

'All credit goes to those people, one of whom - John Daniels - is still a Trustee. They built the first boardwalk and without their vision we wouldn't be where we are today.'

The central 12-acre SSSI is a haven for botanists as it is home to more than 160 plant species. A 600m boardwalk threads its way through tall reeds and across two bridges, with wheelchair access to the most important parts. The trust has built a bridge where the boardwalk crosses Fox's Beck.

'You can see why this is everybody's favourite spot and why visitors always want to play Pooh Sticks here,' said Mr Houlgate.

Another boardwalk snakes through woodland and is a popular daily walking route to the village school.

One of the more dramatic moments in recent years was during the 2009 dry spell, when the Environment Agency alerted the trust to reports of lots of dying fish in the nearby Pit pond.

It saw ' a huge and frantic re-housing of at least 1000 native Tench (and not-so-native goldfish) to various garden ponds and paddling pools while thousands of tons of muck were removed courtesy of the local plant-hire company,' said Mr Houlgate.

'The result is The Pit you see today, home to mallard, moorhen, kingfisher and, despite the heron, a lot of fish.'

More information at www.southreppscommonstrust.org

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