A newcomer looks at the beautiful Norfolk countryside through fresh eyes.
Notes from a newcomer
When every little green pocket of land is falling victim to our friendly neighbourhood developers, it is heartening to read in the papers that plans are afoot to allow large areas of the Fens to revert to wetland. After centuries of drainage schemes, the National Trust, English Nature and the Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust are reversing the process and extending areas like Wood Walton and Wicken Fen as well as creating new expanses of fen. The aim is to attract endangered species such as the bittern, the water vole and the redshank back to their traditional habitat.
The Fens are like New York (in one respect only!) – people either love them or hate them. Driving to work to Peterborough via Wisbech every day this summer has deepened my appreciation of the area’s strange, spare beauty. A minimalist landscape, its few features stand out in bold relief – a fine old barn sheltered by a solitary tree can be from miles around. The region is graced by some handsome farmhouses; and what artist would not be seduced by the watery vistas offered by the riverside villages of Outwell and Nordelph? (I just pray that my car and I don’t end up in the Great Ouse one fine morning when I am distracted by the sight of a stately heron waiting patiently for its breakfast.)
And then of course there are the fabulous, ever-changing Fenland skies. Whoever first described clouds as the mountains of East Anglia got it absolutely right.
In these villages we are lucky to live on the edge of one of the few areas in the country that retains its unique character, still comparatively free from the sprawl of housing estates. But the first signs of change are already here. Who does not grieve every time they drive past Ely, these days? Not to mention the construction site formerly known as Downham Market!
Being a fully paid up and unrepentant NIMBY, I can’t help feeling sad at the present destruction of my own back yard where an overgrown quarry is being prepared for ‘development’. Nobody would describe it as an area of outstanding natural beauty – it was a brambly wilderness before the JCB arrived – but it provided a home for many creatures. There were the pesky squirrels who spent the autumn trying to bury walnuts in my newly planted pots of bulbs, and the silent sparrowhawk who left a telltale spatter of feathers on my lawn. My neighbours regularly saw woodpeckers and enjoyed the song of nightingales in the summer months.
‘Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet!’ wrote the Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. If I had my way, the line would be written over the door of every planning department in the land, but I’m afraid that as long there is a booming property market it will be ignored and – like it or not – human habitats will continue to take precedence over those of animals and birds.