West Dereham Sign Gary Trouton


June 2008

Richard provides a report on the Group's visit to the RSPB Nature Reserve at Lakenheath fen

On a fine Spring evening of the 24th of April members and guests, including some from overseas, went to the RSPB Nature Reserve at Lakenheath Fen.

One square mile of arable fields that before 1996 grew wheat,potatoes and carrots has been returned to reedbeds and water meadows. This marsh allows cattle to graze in the summer months and one of the best sites in this area to see marsh harriers,reed warblers and bearded tits. There are dry paths between the lagoons and waterways which are close enough to the reeds to view water loving birds. The site also has a wide rangeof other wildlife including deer,insects and wildflowers. This is not a cosmetically tendered area with immaculately cut grass and trimmed woodland but left very much to do as nature intended. Fallen trees are left and these provide excellent nesting sites for kingfishers,habitat for insects and would you believe that the water filled hole made when the tree blew over was teeming with small fish.

Reeds have been planted along the margins of the water and these are slowly widening into the lagoons to provide large areas of standing reed. These do have to be managed and cut on a regular basis. The reed produced will be used for thatching where the quality is suitable and the lesser stuff may be used to provide the site with energy in the future.

During the 1650s plans were made by Adventurers to drain big areas of the Fens which at that time covered 1,300 sqaure miles. This watery wilderness of winding rivers,shallow lakes and huge reed beds was the home of the marsh people some of whom were known as Fen Tigers. Early habitation was by people who lived on the low islands and fed themselves by hunting ,fishing and keeping livestock, mainly cattle.The amount of wildlife in the Fens at that time was immense.

The living must have been excellent because early man had the time and energy to make beautifully shaped, polished axe,arrow and spear heads. The Fens teemed with wildfowl right up to the beginning of the 19th century and with the coming of the railways meant that wild duck would be for sale in the London Markets within 3 hours of being taken off the water by the punt gunners.

Most of the Adverturers plans came to fruition and very little of the original fen survives. What was started by the Romans is now complete and we have one of the most productive farming areas in the world growing a wide range of food crops on grade one agricultural soil.

RSPB Lakenheath Fen has succeeded in turning the clock back on it's reserve here and Norman Sills and his dedicated staff have done a splendid job in creating this wildlife haven.

Secretary to West Dereham Heritage Group.

New members welcome.

Tel 01366 500975

e-mail richardfrench@lineone.net

Richard C.French.

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