Fen Management

Crostwick Common, this is a new site for our volunteers and one that many of us had driven past on the North Walsham Road without realising its existence. Our brief from Matt for the site said that “we had been engaged by Norfolk Wildlife Trust to carry out some sensitive management work to maintain the unique wet fen habitat and that the work will involve brush cutting the brambles, grassland vegetation, sedge and the reed bed and then raking off the material to prevent the loss of an important habitat”. The site is a County Wildlife Site (CWS) fed by springs. It certainly was wet underfoot and somewhat gooey in the central part with low dry banks either side populated with oaks and blackthorn. The difference between the wet central area and the dry banks was quite striking with a clear dividing line where the two areas met. Most definitely wellie country!!

Surveying the site, putting up the work in progress signs and then gearing up for a brushcutting marathon. 😊

We had two days at the site starting on Thursday 31 October and returning on the Friday. We had a large team of volunteers on the Thursday and plenty to get on with. A briefing from Matt and Paula highlighted the work to be done and the features of the site – wet and gooey. We set up camp under the trees on the left bank and sorted out which tasks we would undertake.

Paula had already brush-cut a path through to the main site but there was still a lot more to cut back. Fireman Chris tackled a stand of brambles on one side while Bob grappled with the scrub on the other side. I worked my way around the tufts of grasses in the (wet) central area and then moved on to the brambles at the end of the site.

First stage of the cutting involved brambles and invasive grasses. 😬

Other volunteers were cutting back the blackthorn around the perimeter and stacking the material on the dry banks amongst the trees. We couldn’t burn the cuttings because of the sensitivity of the site, and it would have been impossible to get a chipper in. So, stacking this into habitat piles in the dry areas was the best solution. We worked our way around the edges of the site gradually clearing and opening up the central area. The area was raked over to remove the smaller pieces to help protect the environment. When we looked back at the end of the day the site had been transformed with encroaching brambles and blackthorn removed from the wet area and the longer grasses trimmed.

We came across a frog and a toad as we worked. The spindle trees were in full bloom with their vivid pink fruits a bright spot amongst the other trees. We also spotted guelder rose amongst the blackthorn which was itself covered in large fat sloes. We had sticky ginger parkin provided by Paula to keep us going.

Cutting back the blackthorn, giving a frog a helping hand, raking up the cuttings and at the end of the day, ta dah the site looks really great. 👍😀

We returned on a wet Friday morning to continue our work. Our small gang of four volunteers plus Matt H trudged through the muddy site to again set up camp under the trees. Fortunately, the rain eased off shortly after we arrived, and we got ourselves organised. We had three brush cutters and a hedge trimmer, and all were employed to continue clearing around the site. Tim cut a wider swathe through what had become our entrance while Stephen and Robert started cutting the reed at the bottom end. I trimmed the edges with the hedge cutter and Matt cut back more of the blackthorn. Cutting the reed was hard work since these had collapsed onto itself and was heavy and wet to cut and move aside. I took over from Stephen and cut a further section of reed and Tim joined me and Robert to help cutting back the reed.

Having cut a large area of reed we had to rake this up and carry it the side of the fen area. That was hard and heavy work for our small team, and it was nearly 3pm when we finally finished and went home. After two days work, we had left our mark on the site and cleared a large area which would help preserve the wet fen environment of this part of the common.

Last push to cut the reed and sedge bed and by the end of the day, the site looks great. Job is a good’un. Result. 😉

It was not a full weekend-off for all our volunteers. Several of us attended a full day first aid course on the Saturday and other volunteers will have their training the following Saturday. Fortunately, we have very few incidents, but it is essential that we have first aiders on site when working in remote areas and difficult to get to places.