After the confinement of winter there are few pleasures better than a bracing walk in spring sunshine. A stroll along the Bure’s riverbank, adjacent to Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Upton Marshes, is the perfect place to stretch the tendons and fill the senses with nature’s excitement at the promise of warm weather.
The wide open spaces of Norfolk’s Broadland fens and marshes can feel intimidating in winter, especially under heavy leaden skies. In spring, with luck, this slate grey back-drop is replaced by a wash of azure. It then takes on a gentle tranquillity, only broken by the skylark, its distinctive song penetrating the air and sending forth pure joy at the onset of summer.
Norfolk Wildlife Trust is working hard to enhance these marshes through the management of water levels and a carefully-controlled grazing regime by cattle, following restoration supported by Biffa Award and WREN Landfill Communities fund. The aim - which is already proving to be a success - is to increase the number of wintering wildfowl and waders by creating large undisturbed wetland areas.
The winter marshes also provided an excellent hunting-ground for short-eared owls and hen harriers. Along with barn owl they can be seen leisurely quartering back and forth with unblinking focus. In summer our attention turns to breeding birds, with many of our most threatened and declining species now finding a home at Upton. The number of nesting lapwing and redshank has increased each year, and it is hoped that the quantity and diversity of birds will continue to improve.
In early 2017 Norfolk Wildlife Trust purchased a further section of South Walsham Marshes. A short walk along the river bank from Upton, it sits in sight of the relic of St. Benet’s Abbey, a reminder of the antiquity of the landscape. Prior to Christmas 2018 NWT carried out extensive work digging channels, improving dykes and forming pools and scrapes.
I recently paid an early morning visit to the site and was encouraged by nature’s impressive response to our efforts. Accompanied by a meadow pipit, bounding ahead each time I approached too close, it led me along the river bank to the old pump-house, before launching itself high into the air and over my head, back to where it started. I was immediately welcomed by a redshank, its haunting fluty call ringing through the morning mist, a sound so evocative of our springtime marshes. A pair of oystercatchers whirled around one of the recently dug pools, crying a warning that I posed a possible threat. The anticipation is that both species will settle here and breed; hopefully the redshank's plaintive call will be accompanied by a chorus of ‘peewiting’ lapwing and ‘drumming’ snipe. Whist pondering this possibility a yellowhammer broke into song from a nearby hawthorn, its sulphur breast puffed and proud, demanding from anyone who cares ‘a little bit of bread but no cheese'. This bright yellow bird has a touch of the exotic about it; Mediterranean scrubland seeming a more appropriate home than a sodden East Anglian fen.
Work on South Walsham marshes will continue over the coming year. Along with surveys and monitoring, Norfolk Wildlife Trust plans to construct a new viewing shelter, erect livestock fencing and mount interpretation boards that will inform visitors of the unique animals and plants that frequent this fascinating landscape.
Robert Morgan is the Assistant Reserves Manager for the Broads South