NWT Upton Broad and Marshes has a staggering array of wetland plants

World Wetlands Day

Sunday 02 February, 2020

The preservation of Norfolk’s wetlands depends on active, ongoing management, says Norfolk Wildlife Trust on World Wetlands Day.

Globally wetlands are more threatened than forests, with many, including most of Norfolk’s once extensive peat fenlands, having been drained and reclaimed for agriculture and development. Here in Norfolk our coastal and Broadland wetlands still teem with rare wildlife and migratory birds, reminding us of a shared global responsibility.

Wetlands are 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. Renowned wetlands in Norfolk include the Wash, with its tidal mud and sandflats teeming with waders; and the Norfolk Broads, England’s largest lowland wetland, with its shallow lakes home to crane, bittern, marsh harrier and the UK’s most spectacular butterfly, the swallowtail.  

Celebrated every year on 2 February - the date of the signing of the “Convention on Wetlands”, known as the Ramsar Convention, on 2 February 1971 – World Wetlands Day raises awareness of the vital role played by wetlands across the world and promotes their conservation and the sustainable use of wetlands and their resources.

Director of Nature Conservation at Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Kevin Hart said:
“The RAMSAR designation gives another important layer of legislative protection to the UK’s most sensitive and valuable wetlands. Our wildlife’s preservation depends on active management of ditches, water bodies, vegetation, scrub and more – to keep the habitats in healthy condition and to protect our crucial wetlands”.

Director of Development and Engagement at Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Nik Khandpur added:
“The role people play valuing wetlands and our work with partners is essential to supporting wetland protection, and takes many forms. Our Trinity Broads celebration is very much part of that, as is volunteering and last autumn Norfolk Wildlife Trust received donations for wetland restoration from the very first Pensthorpe Bird and Wildlife Fair. The money has been used over the autumn and winter for the upkeep, maintenance and improvement of NWT wetlands, including at nature reserves in the Broads. We are delighted that visitors to the Fair this coming May will continue to support our work in wetlands.”


NWT wetland projects around the county


Eyes to the skies

It has been a fantastic winter for raptors in the Broads, with more than 100 marsh harriers counted at Hickling Broad. NWT’s wildlife spotter survey, which began in December, has had nearly 800 sightings submitted of marsh harrier, common buzzard and red kite. The presence of such birds of prey as these can help determine the health of an environment as they are top predators, and their food source depends on good quality habitat.


Reed bed restoration

This winter NWT is restoring a reed bed pool at its oldest nature reserve, NWT Cley and Salthouse Marshes, to improve habitat and encourage more wading birds to visit. They have cut reed and removed leaf litter and the pool is being re-profiled. This involves creating islands and areas of deeper water to benefit fish, as well as shallower water areas to allow bitterns to forage.


Holme Marsh reed bed restoration

Holme-marsh,-credit-Greg-BeetonAt Holme Dunes near the Wash, active management was focused on the marsh last February, to restore ideal conditions for bittern. They had bred in the area in the past, but aerial photos from a decade ago showed some of the main bodies of water had now become isolated. The ditches had closed in, in turn reducing fish movement and the amount of feeding edges. NWT cleared 1.2 kilometres of ditches, created 1.1 kilometres of feeding edge and cut and cleared 10 inches of reed litter from an acre of reed bed. After raising water levels, reed has begun to recover and from the spring last year a male bittern began booming on a daily basis. NWT is really hopeful that breeding success will follow.


Wissey Wetland

NWT has a wetland creation site on the river Wissey in the Fens, which is managed on behalf of the Environment Agency. Its main purpose is to provide compensatory habitat for losses on the Norfolk coast due to climate change. Last year it was connected to the river, which allows control of the water levels on the site to be just right for reed growth.

The site is proving attractive to birds, including little egret, whooper swan and teal. Volunteer warden, Phil Hasell recorded 103 species last year. He said: “It’s fascinating to see how the site is developing. Every time I visit I learn something new, and it’s remarkable to think that only a few years ago it was intensive farmland with very little bird habitat.”


The Nathusius pipistrelle project in the Broads

Nathusius' Pipistrelle bat, credit Terry Whittaker 2020VISIONIn the Trinity Broads and at other NWT nature reserves such as Martham Broad National Nature Reserve, the Norwich Bat group, Trinity Broads warden and many volunteers have been surveying Nathusius bats in spring and autumn.

Nathusius’ pipistrelle is a rare bat in the UK, though records have increased in recent years. It is a migratory species although some remain all year and breed in the UK. It is similar in appearance to common and soprano pipistrelles; the fur on its back is longer, sometimes giving a shaggy appearance.

All species caught are weighed and recorded and the Nathusius bats were ringed. If a female is caught (either pregnant or post-lactating) they are radio tagged to track them and identify maternity roosts (of which little is known in the UK). More than 60 bats have been ringed over the last couple of years. The work will continue, furthering our understanding of this rare species.


Trinity 25

This year marks 25 years of the Trinity Broads Partnership, celebrating restoration and conservation work and the partnership’s contribution to wildlife, landscape and the community.
Situated north-west of Great Yarmouth, the Trinity Broads provide high quality drinking water. Habitats include wide expanses of shallow open water, extensive reed-bed and undisturbed areas of wet woodland. The broads and their margins are owned by Essex & Suffolk Water and NWT is a key member of the Trinity Broads Partnership managing the site. During the year NWT will hold 25 events – from boat trips to bat evenings – plus engagement work with schools and the public.


Grass-wrack pondweed

Grass-wrack-Jeremy-HallsNWT Upton Broad and Marshes has a staggering array of wetland plants, and NWT has restored 7.2km of silted up dykes at the reserve to increase the number of one in particular: grass-wrack pondweed.

A nationally scarce and endangered species – found at only two places in Norfolk – its presence is evidence of a healthy water environment. It needs open dykes with good quality, clear and slow-flowing water to flourish. As part of the annual dyke clearing, water voles are surveyed and water quality sampled.  

As well as benefitting this specific plant, the project, which is part of the Water, Mills and Marshes project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, will improve our understanding of the quality and condition of water in the Upton dyke network, and will also help other scarce and endangered species such as Norfolk hawker dragonflies, water voles and otters, all of whom thrive on the same high-quality water conditions as the pondweed.

We will also be sending samples of grass-wrack pondweed to the Cambridge Botanic Gardens for propagation and to Kew for genetic analysis. Seeds will be preserved for the future by the Millennium Seed Bank.
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