A Conservation Work Party at Upton Fen

Blog post by Jerry Simpson on 27 Jan, 2022
The Broadland Local Group conservation work party for December 2021 took place at Upton Fen on Sunday 12 December and we were pleased to welcome two new members, Sarah and Mal, to the group, swelling our numbers to 14. It was a mild, dry day, although conditions underfoot were wet following heavy overnight rain.

Our task for the day was going to be assisting with the annual clearing of the dyke system throughout the fen and warden Adam gave us a health and safety talk about the tools we would be using. Each year, the dyke's edges are cleared on a rotation basis (one side each year), so that the spring fed water flows through the system, allowing the water plants to thrive and maintaining the correct water levels through the fen. If left to nature, the reeds would soon fill the dykes and block the water flow.

Reed bonnet by Jerry Simpson

Reed bonnet by Jerry Simpson

The Trust staff had cleared sections of dyke edge with brushcutters and we used pitchforks and hay rakes to clear away the cut reeds, piling them up in large eco piles alongside the path. This allowed access to a clear dyke edge, and warden Joe instructed some of our volunteers in the use of traditional marshman's tools to cut away roots and rhizomes with a maig (like an underwater scythe with a long curved blade), and on how to clear the debris from the water using a crome (like a fork with tines bent at right angles). This was slow, hard work but ended up with a neat cut dyke edge and clear water.

Our fungi enthusiasts, Steve and Yvonne, found a tiny, pale coloured fungi which grows on the base of reed stems called reed bonnet (Mycena belliae) and we marvelled at such a delicate little thing which was easily overlooked. Marsh harriers were spotted flying overhead and a few fleeting vole sightings led to some discussion as to whether they were bank voles or water voles.

Reed bonnet by Jerry Simpson

Amber jelly by Jerry Simpson

At lunchtime, we heard the strange calls of the water rail from within the reed beds and we hoped that it approved of our work. A second interesting fungi was spotted growing on the side of a willow tree by Louis, one of our younger volunteers, and this was identified as amber jelly (Exidia recisa). In the afternoon, we continued along more dyke edges, clearing the cut reeds away for the team working behind us.

It was hard, but satisfying, work and we could see where we had been at the end of the day. We enjoyed a view across the grazing marshes to St. Benet's Abbey and later across towards Thurne wind pumps, before setting off for home to rest our weary bodies.

Our local groups provide a fantastic opportunity to get involved with Norfolk's wildlife and conservation, explore your local area and meet new people. We have eight active local members groups which are closely involved in wildlife issues in their area and which meet informally throughout the year for talks, walks and social occasions. Find out more about the groups and how to join here.
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