World Wetlands Day 2019

Blog post by David North on 31 Jan, 2019

A day to celebrate Norfolk's precious wetlands

Ponds, pingos, marshes, meres, ditches, dykes, saltings, saline lagoons, fens, broads, rivers, chalk streams, winding muddy creeks, silver-headed reedbeds that sigh in the winter winds: Norfolk has them all and what they share in common is water and wonderful wildlife.

This is a watery planet and only a land animal such as ourselves could have named it Earth rather than Water or Ocean. Simply add water to a place and surprisingly quickly that place will begin to teem with life.

Norfolk, one of the driest counties of England, seems at first sight an unlikely area to be nationally and internationally important for its wetland wildlife. But if you know Norfolk, and you watch wildlife, then it’s very likely the wet bits of our county you will come to know and love.

NWT Hickling Broad, by Richard Osbourne

NWT Hickling Broad, by Richard Osbourne

Norfolk Wildlife Trust, and indeed the Wildlife Trust movement, began when a small group of people were so inspired by a wet bit of Norfolk, and its wetland wildlife, that they decided to buy it. That bit of land of course was Cley Marshes, and the rest, as they say, is history. Ever since then Norfolk Wildlife Trust has been working hard to keep the watery bits of Norfolk both watery and full or wetland wildlife. Successes have been hard and long fought, but NWT now not only owns and manages the largest of the Norfolk Broads, Hickling Broad, but lots of other wet places too. From swarms of pingo ponds on our Thompson Common reserve in the Brecks, to extensive areas of reedbed, fen and open water at Barton, Ranworth and Alderfen in the Broads. From shallow pools, home to rare natterjack toads, at Holme Dunes, to the mysterious mires of Roydon Common, whose gluggy, gloopy and glutinous wet bits are the haunt of strange, insect-eating plants and ‘dead cat’ sphagnum mosses. Our Norfolk wetlands are diverse, beautiful and rich in wildlife, both common and rare.

All of our Norfolk wet bits are precious but some are so precious we award them letters like SSSI, SPA, SAC, and Ramsar; designations indicating that the importance of these special places extends way beyond Norfolk. We define wetlands as of international or national importance for wildlife if they hold 1% or more of respectively international or national wildlife populations. Many of Norfolk’s wetlands judged by this criteria are not just nationally important but globally so. A list of the most important would have to include the Ouse Washes on the Fenland edge of Norfolk with its great winter gatherings of Bewick’s and Whooper Swans. The Wash, its tidal mud and sandflats teeming with waders. The patterned salt marshes of the North Norfolk coast with their muddy, winding tidal creeks and carpets of sea lavender, samphire and purslane, winter home to great skeins of pink-footed geese and brent geese. And inland from our coast, the Norfolk Broads, England’s largest lowland wetland, with its shallow man-made, reed and fen-edged lakes home to crane, bittern, harrier and the UK’s most spectacular butterfly, the swallowtail.

NWT Hickling Broad, by Richard Osbourne

Sea lavender, by David North

We expect a lot of our wetlands. As a species we too are a drawn to the water’s edge. Here we walk, fish, launch our boats, holiday, skim stones, paddle with our children, or sit and listen to the waves and watch the sun silvering wind blown ripples. Whether for drinking, or for growing our crops, we steal water from our rivers and wetlands while also using them to dispose of much of our waste. Globally wetlands are more threatened than forests, with many, including most of Norfolk’s once extensive peat fenlands, having been drained and reclaimed. Here in Norfolk our coastal and Broadland wetlands, still teem with migratory birds, reminding us of a shared global responsibility for life on an inter-connected planet. We can be proud of Norfolk’s watery places and wetlands; beautiful, ever-changing, endlessly fascinating. More than just wildlife-rich, they are part of a global life support system of inter-connected wetlands that migratory wildlife depends on.

World Wetlands Day, February 2, is the perfect time to get out and celebrate the value of our wetlands to both people and wildlife. So, no excuses, get your wellies on and go and discover a wetland near you. To celebrate World Wetlands Day NWT is opening its Cley and Salthouse Marshes nature reserve free of charge that day. Please do join us if you can.

David North is Head of People and Wildlife at NWT
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