Norfolk schools get a taste of rare parsnips


Monday 13 July, 2020


Four Norfolk schools have helped conservationists introduce a threatened, iconic marshland flower, greater water parsnip, to areas in the Norfolk Broads. 

Children from Acle St. Edmund C of E primary, Horton C of E School, Lingwood Primary Academy and North Denes Primary school have discovered the principles and processes of re-introducing a native species, thanks to a collaboration between Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s ‘Conservation in Action’ (NWT) and the Broads Authority’s Water, Mills and Marshes: the Broads Landscape Partnership (WMM).

Greater water parsnip is an increasingly rare and threatened species, and of priority concern for conservation. One of its remaining strongholds is the grazing marshes of the Norfolk Broads and it was from dyke edges surrounding Cantley Marshes that children collected the plant’s precious seeds. 

The children discovered that the plant has declined significantly over the last fifty years and its distribution has contracted leaving isolated populations. The reason for this decline may be a combination of mechanical and intensive dyke clearance, over grazing and general habitat loss as a result of drainage.  

The children enjoyed learning about re-wilding and species re-introductions: how to collect the seeds, rear the plants in pots, locate suitable habitat to plant the ‘plugs’ and finally monitor the plants’ development and success.

Natasha Howard, from Water, Mills and Marshes who headed up the project said:
“The plan was the children would plant the young flowers along dyke edge at Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s nature reserve in Norwich, Thorpe Marshes. Unfortunately, no one could have anticipated the restrictions that this spring and summer would bring.

"Despite the closure of the schools, several of the teachers took plant trays home, as did the Water, Mills and Marshes education staff. In total forty-six plants were successfully ‘potted up’ and transported to Thorpe Marshes. We recently planted the water parsnip on the children’s behalf and made a short video for the children to watch.”

Director of Nature Conservation at Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Kevin Hart said:
“This is a great project combining education with actual hands-on conservation. Greater water parsnip is perennial and can grow up to two metres high, so can easily be found if you know what to look for. We hope that over the next few years they will flourish and the children can visit the reserve each summer and see the contribution they made to the return of this iconic marshland flower.” 

NWT Thorpe Marshes is leased to Norfolk Wildlife Trust to protect as a nature reserve by the Crown Point Estate. Although close to Norwich city centre, and in part a former gravel pit, it is a great site for birds. It also hosts a large variety of other animals and plants including the rare Norfolk hawker dragonfly and the endangered water vole. Fiona Sarson, Crown Point Estate Director said “We are thrilled with the transformation of Thorpe Marsh through the hard work of Norfolk Wildlife Trust during their tenure. The Estate is keen to increase biodiversity and encourage the public’s engagement.”

There are no parking facilities, but access can be gained via the railway line footbridge on Whitlingham lane, off Yarmouth Road.  

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