Your chance to help Norfolk’s rivers

Sarah Taigel PhD and Community Involvement Officer Gemma Clark with the River Stiffkey in Warham. Pi

Sarah Taigel PhD and Community Involvement Officer Gemma Clark with the River Stiffkey in Warham. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

Communities will be able to help protect the future of a Norfolk river thanks to a £1.3m financial boost.

A public event led by the 9 Chalk Rivers Project – made up of the Norfolk Rivers Trust and Norfolk Coast Partnership and Norfolk County Council – will be held on Saturday at Wighton Village Hall, near Wells, between 10am and 2pm.

It is the first large community-led event and will inform how individuals or groups can shape the future of the River Stiffkey, which flows through Walsingham and Wighton.

Gemma Clark, community involvement officer for the 9 Chalk Rivers Project, said: 'Chalk rivers are really important because they are such a good feature for ecology. They are important habitats for lots of species. Norfolk chalk rivers are very pretty and scenic and it is important we keep that status and they do not degrade.

'If silt and non-native species in these rivers goes unmanaged they will degrade quickly so it is important we do this work now.'

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The project received £1.3m last year from the Environment Agency – to improve the rivers through a so-called catchment restoration fund.

Norfolk's handout was the largest received by any county in Britain.

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Over the next three years the project will focus on the Stiffkey, the Bayfield which flows near Holt, the Babingley which flows through the Sandringham Estate and the Gaywood which flows through King's Lynn.

It is hoped people who live around these natural features as well as schools will get involved in maintaining the rivers and take over the care of the different waters through self-sustaining groups when grant money runs out.

Mrs Clark said: 'By their nature, chalk rivers are fairly narrow. They have had a lot of work done to them in the past. People have straightened them and the bends have been taken out. Silt has ended up running off the roads and farmland into the rivers.'

Silt is a solid dust-type sediment which settles in rivers and causes them to narrow.

As well as tackling silt build-up the project hopes to combat the invasion of non-native species including red signal crayfish; improve the ecology of the rivers by moves including the creation of more habitats for wading birds; and replenish aquifers – water storage areas underground.

Mrs Clark said the team behind the project wanted to find out where the problems were and look at the rivers from their sources.

On Saturday people will be able to see the results of research by University of East Anglia PhD student Sarah Taigel, who has looked into the use of technology to boost people's understanding of their local rivers.

Ms Taigel, 35, from Norwich, has focused on part of the Stiffkey as part of her final project. She has spoken to landowners, Natural England and the Environment Agency and has used computer technology to show how rivers could change.

These computer generated images will be part of Saturday's event and Ms Taigel hopes they will spark a discussion within communities.

After the three-year project ends the same group will put in another bid to carry out a similar project for the Hun which flows around Hunstanton; the Mun which flows around Cromer; the Ingol which flows through Snettisham; the Heacham which flows through Heacham; and the Burn which flows through Burnham Thorpe.

The 9 Chalk Rivers Project is running a competition to celebrate the Stiffkey asking people to write a three-verse poem, a short story with a maximum of 500 words, draw a picture or take a photograph. Entrants are asked to add site details of photos or drawings.

Names and contact details must be put on the entries which can be sent to Gemma Clark, West Area Office, Poplar Avenue, Saddlebow, King's Lynn, PE34 3AQ, emailed to or tweeted to @9ChalkRivers. Entries must be sent by Thursday, May 9 and they will be on display on Saturday's event.

To get involved in the project email Gemma Clark or ring her on 01553 778024 or 07768 031629.

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