Aerial of Wissey Living Landscape, photo by Hexcam 1/2
Work at the Wissey Living Landscape 2/2


This web page will help you to learn about one of Norfolk’s pioneering new important areas for nature – the Wissey Valley Living Landscape – so you can get out and explore its farmland, woodland, and wetlands and experience the wildlife potential it has to offer.
The Wissey Valley Living Landscape covers an area of about 10,000 hectares to the southeast of Downham Market. It comprises peat fen on the edge of the Fens alongside the River Wissey and the Great Ouse Cut-off Channel. The area is mostly highly drained arable land (on high-quality peat soils). The area’s farming is very intensive and accompanied by high levels of irrigation. Although mainly consisting of large, farmed fields, there are a number of wooded areas and belts of trees which break up the landscape and give shelter and habitat to wildlife.
Historically, the Fens was once a huge wetland covering much of west Norfolk and extending into Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire. Today they have been largely drained, and are heavily cultivated. NWT hopes to restore some of the landscape to its former wildlife-rich glory by creating a mosaic of wetland habitats, and by working alongside landowners to enhance the wildlife of the existing farming landscape.
In previous times the Fens were home to a range of wetland birds including bitterns and common cranes – the impressive 14th-century Longthorpe Tower near Peterborough has medieval wall paintings from the time which depict both species, evidence of their local occurrence – and by recreating suitable wetland and reedbed habitat, we hope that one day both might once again grace the Norfolk Fens.

Conserving the area’s peat – a vital store of carbon – should also help to mitigate against climate change: our peatlands store billions of tonnes of carbon and the Fenland area makes an important contribution toward this total.
As a result of expected changes to the management of coastal flood defences on the north Norfolk coast, it is predicted that the reedbeds of NWT’s flagship Cley Marshes reserve will eventually be lost due to an increase in salinity. As a result, the Environment Agency together with Norfolk Wildlife Trust are jointly embarking on a wetland creation project in the Fens near Downham Market to replace the habitat anticipated to be lost at NWT Cley Marshes.

The Hilgay Wetland Creation Project will create reedbed and wetland habitat on over 60 hectares of former agricultural land in Methwold Parish, close to the village of Hilgay in west Norfolk. It is the first part of NWT’s ambitious Wissey Living Landscape project. Although access is not currently possible at Hilgay, as work is still underway at the site, the new habitats are coming along well – watch this website for news updates – we hope it won’t be too many years before the boom of the bittern can be heard in southwest Norfolk. Already, unusual visitors including avocets have visited the site's flooded fields.

Even though this is a largely arable landscape, there is still a surprising amount of wildlife to be seen in the Wissey Valley. In winter the flat, black-soiled landscape can appear rather bleak, though its austere beauty is enhanced by the flocks of wild swans – whooper and Bewick’s – which feed during the day on the area’s fields, travelling in from the nearby Ouse Washes and Welney reserves. Other winter visitors include large flocks of lapwing and golden plovers, and suitable areas of wetland habitat might harbour large flocks of wigeon or other ducks.

The area is also excellent for barn owls – they can be seen at all times of year – though in summer when they have young to feed they are often on the wing in the early evening, a ghostly, mesmerising sight. Little owls are also present in reasonable numbers year-round, and in winter small numbers of short-eared owls sometimes occur (though this species is on the decline).

Farmland songbirds can still be found in the Wissey Valley, though populations of species like yellowhammers, corn buntings and tree sparrows are much-reduced from their pre-WWII numbers: the intensification of agriculture with larger fields, less areas of cover such as hedgerows, and increased use of herbicides and pesticides has had a massive impact. We aim to work with farmers and landowners within the Wissey Valley Living Landscape to promote farming that helps populations of these fragile, iconic countryside species to grow. Look and listen out for these birds around hedgerows and weedy set-aside fields.
The wildlife and habitats of the Fens and Wissey Valley Living Landscape are under threat. Many species that were once common here are now in decline (such as many farmland songbirds), and increasing agricultural pressures are crowding in on the area’s precious, fragmented habitats. Despite this, there is much you can do to help ensure this underrated part of Norfolk and its wildlife has a thriving future.

If you live in the region you can help by making your garden more wildlife-friendly by: feeding the birds in your garden, putting up nest boxes and bat boxes, or creating a wildlife pond or a compost heap.

There are many other actions you can take such as encouraging local businesses or schools to support an area for wildlife, joining together with other people within the community to create wildlife-friendly areas, volunteering for NWT or other conservation projects, speaking to local councillors and MPs about the importance of local green spaces and wildlife, and buying from local farmers engaged in good environmental practices.

Or, just simply, get out into the fields and countryside of Norfolk and learn about its wildlife and habitats. You could even undertake a simple wildlife survey (NWT occasionally runs surveys for certain species, and more regular ones are carried out by the BTO and RSPB) to help scientists and researchers learn more about local farmland wildlife numbers and distribution.

News stories: a living landscape

2018-08-13 Floating digger provides next Floating digger provides next stage of fen restoration
Monday 13 August, 2018
A 14-ton excavator has been ‘floating’ on a Norfolk fen this month to create a network of ponds, which wi...
2018-07-25 Songs, Scales and studies at C Songs, Scales and studies at Cley this summer
Wednesday 25 July, 2018
Don’t miss Cley Calling Summer Spirit next week - Thursday 2nd till Sunday 5th August – with unusual ways...
2018-06-27 Summer Spirit as Cley calls to Summer Spirit as Cley calls to art and nature lovers
Wednesday 27 June, 2018
Just five weeks until our long summer weekend of wildlife and creativity at Cley! Thursday 2nd till Sunday 5th August...
2018-05-22 Wildlife in Common Wildlife in Common
Tuesday 22 May, 2018
A two year project celebrating Norfolk’s commons and their wildlife and heritage has begun,  run by Norfol...
2017-12-08 Be ‘eagle’ eyed this winter Be ‘eagle’ eyed this winter
Friday 08 December, 2017
Winter is often a very good time of year to spot birds of prey. As the trees have lost their leaves the silhouettes o...
2017-12-05 Cley Calling celebrates Norfol Cley Calling celebrates Norfolk’s starry skies this weekend
Tuesday 05 December, 2017
Do you know your mallard from your gadwall? Do you fancy a spot of frosty storytelling with a glass of mulled wine? Y...
2017-10-02 New report links volunteering New report links volunteering in nature with better mental health
Monday 02 October, 2017
A new report which examines the effects of volunteering in nature on people’s mental health is published by The...
2017-09-20 Cley Calling – Autumn Colours Cley Calling – Autumn Colours
Wednesday 20 September, 2017
This autumn, you can explore North Norfolk’s colourful coastal landscape and culture as part of NWT’s ...
2017-09-19 Celebrating two decades of rub Celebrating two decades of rubbish help for biodiversity
Tuesday 19 September, 2017
It feels counterintuitive - the waste we produce helping to restore habitats and conserve some of Norfolk’s mos...
2017-09-11 Breeding redshank return to Ro Breeding redshank return to Roydon Common after 40 years
Monday 11 September, 2017
A new noise has joined the cacophony of bubbling curlew, drumming snipe and the ‘tooo-wips’ of lapwing th...
2017-06-27 Norfolk's magical meadows Norfolk's magical meadows
Tuesday 27 June, 2017
Norfolk Wildlife Trust is leading a free meadow tour of Mulbarton Common this Saturday 1 July 2017 as part of The Wil...
2017-06-07 From Dartmoor to Breckland From Dartmoor to Breckland
Wednesday 07 June, 2017
New ponies settle in to manage Cranwich Camp, Norfolk.  Sixteen Dartmoor Ponies are settling in to their new...
2017-05-03 Cley Calling - Spring Song Cley Calling - Spring Song
Wednesday 03 May, 2017
Musicians and artists celebrate spring at the North Norfolk Coast From Thursday 4 May to Sunday 7 May, Norfolk Wi...
2017-04-18 £1 million target reached to s £1 million target reached to secure future of international wetland Hickling Broad
Tuesday 18 April, 2017
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has announced today that the £1 million target had been reached through donations to the...
2017-03-15 'Microsculpture' 'Microsculpture'
Wednesday 15 March, 2017
'Microsculpture' is a unique exhibition resulting from a ground breaking insects project by Levon Biss, Briti...
2017-03-07 Celebrating 'The Year of Norfo Celebrating 'The Year of Norfolk’s Nature' - photography competition
Tuesday 07 March, 2017
Norfolk Wildlife Trust today [Wednesday 8 March 2017] announced the winner of its photographic competition celebratin...
2017-02-16 Do some 'fun raising' and Do some 'fun raising' and "Help Hickling" Broad
Thursday 16 February, 2017
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has an ambitious target of raising £1 million by 31 March 2017 to help it purchase 655 a...
2017-02-02 World Wetlands Day celebrates World Wetlands Day celebrates major public commitment to securing Norfolk’s finest wetland
Thursday 02 February, 2017
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has announced today on World Wetlands Day that over £500,000 has been donated so far to ...
2017-01-14 Sea Flooding at NWT Cley Marsh Sea Flooding at NWT Cley Marshes Nature Reserve
Saturday 14 January, 2017
Update: 18 January 2017 Following the flooding at the weekend, reserve staff are now carrying out a clean-up and ...
2016-12-06 A strong step towards securing A strong step towards securing Hickling Broad
Tuesday 06 December, 2016
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has announced that over £128,000 has been donated so far as a result of it launching the...
2016-11-21 It's time to chat about the ba It's time to chat about the bat
Monday 21 November, 2016
Join bat expert John Goldsmith for an evening this Thursday [24 November] discovering the secret lives of these noctu...
2016-11-02 Hickling Broad - urgent appeal Hickling Broad - urgent appeal to secure future of historic Norfolk wildlife haven
Wednesday 02 November, 2016
 Norfolk Wildlife Trust today announced it is launching a £1 million appeal to secure the future of one of...
2016-07-11  A wild morning in Reffley – t A wild morning in Reffley – this Saturday!
Monday 11 July, 2016
Join Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Reffley Community Association and the Gaywood Valley Conservation Group for a fun packed...
2016-05-13 Competition to name King’s Lyn Competition to name King’s Lynn Wildlife Area
Friday 13 May, 2016
Ideas are being sought from members of the public for a name to give to a publicly accessible wildlife area which is ...

Habitats: Wissey

Fen Fen
Farmland Farmland
Freshwater grazing marsh Freshwater grazing marsh
Rivers Rivers
Woodland Woodland