Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s second biggest nature reserve in the Norfolk Broads is a tranquil haven in the heart of the Bure and Thurne Living Landscape
area and home to an unassuming plant at the centre of a restoration project now underway.
NWT Upton Broad and Marshes has an impressive variety of wetland habitats from dense wet woodland to wide open grazing marshes and is home to some of Norfolk’s rarest wildlife, from iconic swallowtail butterflies and Norfolk hawker dragonflies to lapwings and majestic marsh harriers.
A key component of this reserve’s success is the dyke network: not only do the dykes help to manage water levels on other areas of the reserve, they are an important habitat in their own right. One of the aquatic plants calling the marsh dykes home is the grass-wrack pondweed. This particular wetland plant is the focus of a three-year Norfolk Wildlife Trust project, now in its second year, and forms part of the wider Water, Mills and Marshes project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and led by the Broads Authority, which groups together 38 projects across the Broads.
Grass-wrack pondweed (Potamogeton compressus) might seem rather unassuming at first, but this is a nationally scarce and endangered plant, a species of “principal importance”. It is found at only two locations in Norfolk, one of which is in the dykes at Upton Marshes. Its presence indicates a healthy dyke environment as the plant requires dykes with good quality, clear and slow-flowing water to flourish.
NWT is restoring 7.2km of silted up dykes on the marshes to provide even more suitable habitat for the grass-wrack pondweed on the nature reserve. The aim is to transfer grass-wrack pondweed to receptor dykes with the assistance of a national grass-wrack pondweed specialist. The first translocation will take place this spring.
We will be sending cuttings of grass-wrack pondweed to Cambridge Botanic Gardens for propagation and seed stock will be preserved for the future by the Millennium Seed Bank. We are hoping that plant material will also be sent to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, for genetic analysis.
The project will improve our understanding of the quality of water in the Upton dyke network, improve the distribution of the grass-wrack pondweed populations through translocation and enhance the plant’s current habitat. This work will also benefit other scarce and endangered species found on the reserve such as Norfolk hawker dragonflies, water voles and otters, which rely on good quality habitat and a healthy water environment.