King’s Lynn is well known for its maritime heritage, impressive Custom House, churches, South Gate and more. But how often do we think or take notice of the Gaywood River,  which passes through the heart of medieval King’s Lynn through to the Great Ouse.

The Gaywood River is a slow-running chalk stream which springs near Grimston and Gayton. Eventually it enters the Wash and runs out through to the North Sea. Over the last 200 years the river has changed considerably. Since the 15th century, the river has been diverted and re-routed. Maps from the 18th century shows the Great Ouse estuary meandered across the north of King’s Lynn, surrounded by salt marshes and mudflats. It was home to many species such as snipe, redshank, curlew and other species. It was not until the 1850s when drainage and embankment forced the river to its current state. Upstream it still has many natural features but these almost disappear downstream in King’s Lynn, where it had been deepened and straightened in the past.

Kingfisher, Elizabeth Dack

Like all rivers the Gaywood River is vitally important to the land but is often something we take for granted. Not only are they habitat corridors for species to move from place to place, they are a habitat in their own right for many species such as water voles, otters and of course many species of fish and aquatic plant.

The Hidden Heritage of the Gaywood River project aims to explore the impact of the river changes, uncovering the heritage of the river and celebrating its importance. The project is part-funded by a £94,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and also through the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk, Norfolk Rivers Trust and the Environment Agency.  There are various aspects to the project, including restoration work to allow the river’s natural habitats and their dependent species to flourish, and also to turn a former land disposal site into a parkland with trees and a wildflower meadow.

Boudica class had a fun-filled day discovering how to protect the heritage of rivers, protecting against pollution, invasive species and food chains. This was an important part of their topic on mountains, rivers and coasts.

Sophie, St Edmunds Academy
Norfolk Wildlife Trust will be running wildlife activities during the school holidays, starting in Easter. Activities include sessions on beautiful birds, brilliant bats, buzzing bees, river dipping and more. You’ll even have the opportunity to make your own bird and bat boxes to take home but numbers are limited so it is on a first come first served bases.

The sessions highlight why river habitats are so important to so many species. Rivers are well known for supporting wildlife such as otters and kingfishers but there are other species which are perhaps less well known. Daubenton’s bats are usually seen feeding over water. Occasionally, they use their large feet and tail membrane to scoop prey from the water surface.

The river’s margins are also beneficial for wildlife. Many flowering plants are usually left to grow - and long enough to flower - which can be important to pollinators such as bees. Rivers contain many freshwater invertebrates, such as mayfly nymphs, and the plant margins can attract many terrestrial invertebrates including flower beetles and aphids. These invertebrates are low down in the food chain, and in turn will therefore attract many other species to feed, like bats and birds. Having the healthy habitat, the healthy river, is crucial for wildlife.

St Edmunds education activities

Norfolk Wildlife Trust will also be visiting schools during term time with the Norfolk Rivers Trust. The children will take part in activities including predator/prey games, looking at invasive and non-invasive species, lifecycles and exploring how different particles move though water using descriptive words.

The Boudica Class from St Edmunds Academy has already taken part. Sophie, a Year 3 teacher said ‘Boudica class had a fun-filled day discovering how to protect the heritage of rivers, protecting against pollution, invasive species and food chains. This was an important part of their topic on mountains, rivers and coasts.’

People’s relationship with the Gaywood River has changed over the years. It is a similar story for many rivers across Norfolk and the county, but each has their own unique history which makes them so important. The river is a corridor that connects many different habitats, providing linkages that would not otherwise exist. There is a flip side to this connectivity, however, in that damage done in one place may be felt elsewhere along the river’s length. The plastic bag carelessly discarded here may choke a creature many miles downstream. The river is not just a water channel it is the totality of the whole valley; it is connected and we must understand that if we are to care for it.
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