As a result of expected changes to the management of coastal flood defences on the north Norfolk coast, it is predicted that the reedbeds of NWT’s flagship Cley Marshes
reserve will eventually be lost due to an increase in salinity. As a result, the Environment Agency together with Norfolk Wildlife Trust are jointly embarking on a wetland creation project in the Fens near Downham Market to replace the habitat anticipated to be lost at NWT Cley Marshes.
The Hilgay Wetland Creation Project will create reedbed and wetland habitat on over 60 hectares of former agricultural land in Methwold Parish, close to the village of Hilgay in west Norfolk. It is the first part of NWT’s ambitious Wissey Living Landscape project. Although access is not currently possible at Hilgay, as work is still underway at the site, the new habitats are coming along well – watch this website for news updates – we hope it won’t be too many years before the boom of the bittern can be heard in southwest Norfolk. Already, unusual visitors including avocets have visited the site's flooded fields.
Even though this is a largely arable landscape, there is still a surprising amount of wildlife to be seen in the Wissey Valley. In winter the flat, black-soiled landscape can appear rather bleak, though its austere beauty is enhanced by the flocks of wild swans – whooper and Bewick’s – which feed during the day on the area’s fields, travelling in from the nearby Ouse Washes and Welney reserves. Other winter visitors include large flocks of lapwing and golden plovers, and suitable areas of wetland habitat might harbour large flocks of wigeon or other ducks.
The area is also excellent for barn owls – they can be seen at all times of year – though in summer when they have young to feed they are often on the wing in the early evening, a ghostly, mesmerising sight. Little owls are also present in reasonable numbers year-round, and in winter small numbers of short-eared owls sometimes occur (though this species is on the decline).
Farmland songbirds can still be found in the Wissey Valley, though populations of species like yellowhammers, corn buntings and tree sparrows are much-reduced from their pre-WWII numbers: the intensification of agriculture with larger fields, less areas of cover such as hedgerows, and increased use of herbicides and pesticides has had a massive impact. We aim to work with farmers and landowners within the Wissey Valley Living Landscape to promote farming that helps populations of these fragile, iconic countryside species to grow. Look and listen out for these birds around hedgerows and weedy set-aside fields.