Rare chalk river habitat explored at North Creake open day

A close-up look at the creatures living in one of Norfolk's rarest ecosystems was shown to neighbouring villagers during an open day exploring one of our lesser-known chalk rivers.

The River Burn community day at North Creake, near Fakenham, was one of a series of events organised by the Norfolk Rivers Trust to enthuse people's interest in their local chalk rivers – and inspire public involvement in their management and preservation.

It included guided walks along restored sections of the waterway, photography courses, and a bird of prey display.

Meanwhile, in the village hall, experts from organisations including the Environment Agency and the Hawk and Owl Trust were on hand to discuss the wealth of wildlife living in the river running outside.

Children were able to peer into fish tanks containing species like perch and sticklebacks, see freshwater shrimps and water boatmen in a tray of water, and look at mayfly and dragonfly larvae under a microscope.

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David Diggens, director of the Norfolk Rivers Trust, said all the catchment's stakeholders needed to be involved in order to strike a 'pragmatic compromise' between the interests of conservationists, farmers, recreational users, drainage boards and water companies.

'Open days like this give us the chance to bring everybody together who has an interest in these rivers,' he said.

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'At the end of the last Ice Age, the ice stopped at the other side of King's Lynn and left the chalk in Norfolk, which acts as a natural filtration system and creates this unique habitat, of which there are only about 200 in the world.

'It is phenomenally well-balanced environment which all these creatures can live in, but it is very susceptible to change. It is a complex and challenging environment for those involved in all parts of the equation, so it is very important we find a pragmatic compromise between all their interests.'

Rory Sanderson, the EA's catchment delivery manager for Norfolk, showed fascinated children some of the river's invertebrates, which he said were an important measure of a river's long-term health.

He said: 'One of the great things for kids is that they can go outside and pick a stone up see all these things moving around – showing them these things is a great way of getting people involved in their local rivers.

'We must also remember these rivers are functional and they have always been workhorses throughout history; they carry water and can be used for milling or for recreation. We need to take all these things into consideration.'

Barbara Lynn, 70, who was born a stone's throw from the River Burn and has always lived in North Creake, said: 'I am very interested in the wildlife, but to us as children the beck was always a playground.

'When the river was dry it was a matter of great honour to go under the road which it flowed under, and when the fields were flooded we would have rafts made out of tin boxes. We take it for granted, but it supports a lot of nice wildlife and we need to find the right balance.'

Another North Creake resident attending Sunday's event was Lin Murray, of the Hawk and Owl Trust, which has its flagship nature reserve at Sculthorpe Moor near Fakenham. She said: 'It is amazing the amount of people living in the village who have come out to learn about their river – all of my neighbours have been here taking the time to find out more from these professional bodies. They are all really engaged.

'Everything that lives in the river is the start of the food chain for my birds of prey, so it is all extremely important.'

As well as teams carrying out practical work and less strenuous wildlife monitoring, the Norfolk Rivers Trust hopes to create steering groups for each of the rivers which can guide the emerging improvement plans and discuss any wider issues with environmental bodies, local authorities and water companies.

For more information, or to volunteer, contact Jonathan Lewis, catchment-based approach liaison officer on 07917 023 490 or jonathan@norfolkriverstrust.org.

The remaining chalk rivers open days will run from 10am to 4pm on the following dates: River Heacham – Sedgeford Village Hall, Saturday, February 22; River Ingol – Snettisham Village Hall, Saturday, March 8.

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