There is no guessing what the weather will have in store for us! Following the welcome (if heavy) rain that filled the fen, the new outfall was opened up during January to drop the water levels, ready for the reed cutting at the end of February. This was followed by colossal quantities of rain, which topped up middle fen faster than the outfall could let it out. It was probably fortuitous that the outfall was open, otherwise it is quite possible that the fen would have started to flood the road.
It soon became clear that reed cutting was going to be impossible as the levels continued to rise into early March. However, not many people realise that with a Countryside Stewardship agreement, it is not sufficient to just decide not to do it. Permission has to be sought from the Rural Payments Agency and a lengthy form filled in to justify our actions (or inaction as the case may be). Fortunately, our Natural England officer understood the position, and advised the RPA that it would be impossible for us to carry out the cut with doing damage to the fen, and endangering the reed cutter.
It seems incredible that we had to go through all this red tape when large parts of the country were suffering from terrible flooding. I expect the people managing sites in those places had to fill in the same forms, even though their pieces of land were under several feet of water for weeks.
Hot on the heels of this came the lockdown, coupled with about two months of the driest and sunniest weather that we have seen in years. Consequently there has been a much higher footfall on the fen than we have ever seen, as people have time on their hands and are looking for somewhere to walk and enjoy nature. As the lockdown has started to ease, visitors have come from further afield, and I was surprised, early one morning, to meet a birding author and his wife that Mark and I had met on trips to Scotland, where he had been the guest speaker at our hotel. They live in North Norfolk, and had decided to travel inland to avoid the crowds of tourists and second homers, all week-ending in their homes despite the legislation. They were astonished at the variety of habitat and bird species present in such a small area, and amazed at the condition of the site when I explained that it was managed by a team of volunteers with the services of just two specialist contractors.
Our volunteers should be pleased to hear that a lot of compliments have been made about the fen, which is currently teeming with wildlife. On the bird front, the marsh harriers have been omnipresent, with red kites and buzzards around much of the time.
There have been cuckoos, hobbies, owls and kingfishers, as well as a multitude of warblers and other smaller birds. As a bonus, a bittern has frequently been heard booming on the adjacent piece of land on the far side of Stringside Drain. For anyone who does not know what this sounds like, it is very similar to the noise made when you blow across the top of a glass milk bottle, but much, much louder.
The sunshine has brought out the dragonflies and damselflies. I have heard from an expert that one day he saw the following: Common and Azure banded Demoiselles; Blue and Large Red Damselflies; Hairy Dragonflies; Four- spotted Chasers, Broad-bodied Chasers, Emporer Dragonfly and Scarce Chasers
Even with my limited knowledge, I was able to identify three of these one morning. They are an enchanting site to be enjoyed by those with the patience to watch them.
We are very fortunate to have such a lovely habitat on our doorstep, particularly during these difficult times, and as ever, I would like to express my thanks to the volunteers who work so hard to keep it like this. It is a place of peace and quiet – an escape from the current worries of everyday life.
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