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Wildlife recovery

Norfolk hawker dragonfly

Forty years ago, when the British Dragonfly Society was founded, the future of this dragonfly with bright green eyes and a gingery body was bleak. As a symbol of the special and fragile watery landscape of the Broads, it was adopted as the logo for the Broads Authority in 1983 and for many years it was almost entirely restricted to the Broads. But this has now changed for the better.

It started to expand across Norfolk and Suffolk, then became established in Cambridgeshire, Kent, Hertfordshire, Dorset and Devon. It’s even been seen at the London Wetland Centre and as far north as Yorkshire and Lancashire. Where will it turn up next?

In the Broads, many marshes remain undrained and active conservation management work by the Broads Authority and other organisations is restoring habitats for wildlife, including dragonflies. Norfolk hawkers need good grazing marsh dyke systems with clean, non-saline water, rushy margins, and preferably an abundance of water soldier, as well as other water plants.

Where and when?

Good places to see them include the nature reserves at How Hill, Hickling, Strumpshaw and Carlton. Best time to see them: May to August.

Water vole

The population of this rare creature has started to recover in the Broads after many years of decline, thanks to control of its main predator, the American mink, a non-native species bred for fur from the 1920s. Populations of escaped mink bred intensively in the Broads, damaging populations of wild birds and mammals.

A mink trapping programme started in the Broads in 2003, managed by Waterlife Recovery Trust and involving the Broads Authority and others. Last year only seven mink were caught in Norfolk and five in Suffolk, and Waterlife Recovery Trust believes that the invasive species has been nearly eradicated from these counties, with a corresponding increase in the recovery of water voles. The trapping programme is being expanded from the Thames to Lincolnshire, which will reduce the likelihood of mink returning to the Broads and will expand the area where the water vole is protected.

Where and when?

They are not easy to spot, but you may see a hole in a dyke bank indicating a burrow or you may hear a splash as they dive into the water. Take a boat trip on the Electric Eel at How Hill and you may be lucky. Best time to see them: spring to autumn – they are most numerous in September.

Nature reserves & parks (visitthebroads.co.uk)

Planning for biodiversity

In autumn 2023, in order to fulfil a government initiative, we welcomed a new member of staff as out first Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) Officer. What’s that all about? The Broads Authority is the local planning authority (LPA) for the Broads and essentially, the new officer’s job is about ensuring a contribution to nature recovery through the national planning system. BNG is a government requirement and is a way to contribute to the recovery of nature while developing land – making sure that habitat for wildlife is in a better state than it was before development. LPAs will have to approve a biodiversity net gain plan for development work before it can start.

Developers must try to avoid loss of habitat on land they plan to develop, or they must create habitat on the site or elsewhere. The new BNG requirements will be incorporated into the new Local Plan for the Broads (our planning policy document), which is currently under review.


Peat for the future

Broads peat is up to 10,000 years old, but it’s very much a key part of the future, too. Peat forms from compressed dead plants in wet areas, such as fens, and peatlands store twice as much carbon as forests, helping to combat the effects of climate change. Draining peatland releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

With funding from government programmes, the Broads Authority has developed several successful projects related to peat over the last few years, working in many partnerships.

The FibreBroads project, awarded by Natural England, is the most important and innovative.  We are growing and testing new wetland crops and products such as novel construction materials. Two further grants, awarded in January 2024, are helping us engage with farmers about water management and storage to supply peaty floodplains with water in our hotter, drier summers and wetter winters.

A group of people taking a peat core
Taking a peat core

The Farming in Protected Landscapes (FiPL) programme is a government fund set up in 2021, through which organisations such as the Broads Authority can award government grants to farmers and other land managers to carry out projects that support the environment, mitigate the impacts of climate change or support nature-friendly farm businesses, restore historic buildings or provide public access opportunities.

FiPL has been extended until March 2025, and is a mechanism for achieving our objectives in responding to climate change and flood risk, and improving landscapes for biodiversity and agriculture. Many of the 50 projects funded so far are related to paludiculture or wet farming on peat soils. One of the original wet farming crops is reed, traditionally grown in the Broads. You can read more about the FiPL scheme on our website, including how those from the private, public and voluntary sectors can apply for current funding.

Hulver Ground and Buttle Marsh

These two places are both close to How Hill, the National Nature Reserve owned by the Broads Authority. We have purchased Hulver Ground, which will enable us to extend our direct conservation management work in the valley of the River Ant, including preserving habitat for rare species found there, such as the critically endangered crested buckler-fern. In all, a quarter of the UK’s rarest wildlife is found in the Broads.

The Authority bought the area at Hulver Ground (opposite Buttle Marsh, which it already owns) in 2023, with a government grant through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Buttle Marsh has been managed by the Authority since 2003, however due to a lack of water on the site it has not reached optimal condition. With funding from the government’s Nature for Climate Peatland Restoration Grant Scheme, we will be able to complete the restoration.

Buttle Marsh (named after one of the local words for the rare fen bird, the bittern) will be 'rewetted', meaning more water will be retained on the land, creating conditions that will allow peat to build up. To find out a bit about Broads peat digging in the past, read Keep going, included in this selection.

You can see Buttle Marsh on your left walking from How Hill along the River Ant towards Ludham Bridge and you’ll find some public events for Buttle Marsh on Eventbrite.


Park protectors

National Park Nature Award

The Broads is in good hands. In autumn 2023, Nick Sanderson, the Broads Authority’s Education Officer, won the National Park Nature Award for his community nature recovery work at Barton Turf Nature Reserve in the northern Broads. The award is one of a series made each year by the Campaign for National Parks, with sponsorship from WWF-UK (World Wide Fund for Nature), to people they call ‘park protectors’. Nick saw the potential of the Barton Turf site and began a partnership to transform it with Di Smith, the Centre Manager, as well as many others.

Nick said: “It’s really about the team, about the volunteers, the staff and the young people who’ve been involved who are really making a difference to nature conservation and have hopefully been inspired by it as well.”

Education involves a very wide remit for Nick, working with schools, community groups and charities. The Barton Turf project is one of many, changing the lives of people from diverse backgrounds, including young people who don’t usually have access to the Broads, people with complex needs, asylum seekers and refugees.

To find out more about our education work go to broads-authority.gov.uk/learning

100 Years of Ted Ellis

Go back 100 years and someone else was just starting on protecting the Broads, if in a very different way. Ted Ellis was a naturalist, writer and broadcaster who entered the lives of many people in the Broads and beyond. He began keeping journals of his observations of Broads wildlife as a young boy, going on to become Keeper of Natural History at the Castle Museum in Norwich and to create the nature reserve at Wheatfen, Surlingham.

Broads Authority education staff and Wheatfen Nature Reserve have been working on an education project to digitise a selection of Ted’s journals, and running events to bring his store of knowledge and his love and concern for the Broads and its wildlife to a contemporary audience. He began his searches on the beach at Gorleston, adjacent to Great Yarmouth, and some of the events have involved looking at his records of the places he knew and comparing them with those places now. Some have disappeared and some have changed beyond recognition, but, encouragingly, some haven’t changed too much and some are in a better state now than they were then!

"I am very jealous for the pastoral peace of the East Anglian countryside. If it is destroyed, where will town dwellers and all the sick-of-suburbs people turn to find unspoiled country? Let us remain a breathing space for the cure of souls," he said. Find out more in our projects pages and at wheatfen.org.

For other nature reserves to visit go to Nature reserves & parks (visitthebroads.co.uk).