Wetland restored to former glory

An ancient Norfolk wetland of national importance is being restored to its former glory. Cranberry Rough, at Great Hockham, is being cleared of encroaching scrub to ensure the future of 80 hectares of vanishing fen habitat as well as a number of rare fenland plants.

An ancient Norfolk wetland of national importance is being restored to its former glory.

Cranberry Rough, at Great Hockham, is being cleared of encroaching scrub to ensure the future of 80 hectares of vanishing fen habitat as well as a number of rare fenland plants. The unwanted vegetation is squeezing out species like marsh fern, milk parsley, narrow-small reed and the fibrous tussock sedge that are particularly under threat.

The �214,000 project has been funded by a grant from Natural England and is a joint venture with both Norfolk Wildlife Trust and a conservation-conscious local land owner.

A site of special scientific interest (SSSI), the land near Thetford was once a natural lake created about 14,000 years ago. Until the beginning of the twentieth century it was more or less open fen, hosting an exceptionally wide range of reeds, sedges, other fenland plants, insects and birds including more than 60 species of spiders.


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Cranberry Rough is also special because of the pollen and plant remains preserved in the peat below, which tell us about past climate and the changing vegetation of the Breckland area. It is also the only place in Norfolk where the cranberry grows, hence its name. The species is a distant cousin of the American variety we eat at Christmas.

Bev Nichols, of Natural England's west Suffolk and breckland land management team, said: “This patch of land is of national importance. By restoring the SSSI to open fen we will preserve the nationally rare or scarce plants we have growing here - without completely losing the scrub habitat provided by the tangle of willows and alders,” In 2000 a study was commissioned to establish the ideal balance between open fen and scrub. Three years ago, the Forestry Commission, which owns a separate chunk of Cranberry Rough, cleared 40 hectares. The remaining area is now being tackled thanks to a higher level stewardship grant from Natural England.

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Brendan Joyce, Director of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said: “We are delighted that this significant higher level stewardship grant is enabling the partners to return the ancient wetland to its former glory. This challenging project will secure the future of this valuable site of special scientific interest.”

Clearing an exceptionally wet site like Cranberry Rough is very expensive. Felling and removing the vegetation takes heavy duty, specialist machines mounted on pontoon tracks to stop them sinking into the mud - the work scheduled for completion by Friday.

The site will then be managed as a partnership between Natural England, Norfolk Wildlife Trust and the Breckles Grange Farming Co. The plan is to graze the land to provide long-term sustainable management of the fen.

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