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Size: 1.5 ha (3.7 acres).
Parish: South Walsham.
Owned by: Norfolk County Council.
Access & Parking: Open to the public. A circular boardwalk provides access around most of the site and a hide near the entrance provides views over the nearby pond, reedbed and fen-meadow. A viewing platform also gives views along the dyke on the north side of the site. Limited parking space is available at the Hemblington end of the bridleway, entailing an enjoyable walk of about one kilometre to the site. Please do not park at the northern end of the bridleway or on the adjacent part of Panxworth Road.
Underfoot: Good, a boardwalk completed in 2005, now takes you round the site. Please take care if going off the boardwalk as whole area can be wet and boggy.
Habitats: Fen-meadow, tall-herb fen, stream, ditches, ponds, carr & scrub.
Main conservation interest: Wetland habitats including floristically-rich fen-meadow.
Conservation status: Local Nature Reserve (notified in 1989, opened 1989) and part of County Wildlife Site 2003.
Management: Areas of site managed by BADCOG since 1986 on behalf of NCC Countryside Team. NCC managemnet plan for the fen.
Location: Walsham Fen is situated to the southeast of Panxworth, adjacent to the bridleway running between Panxworth and Hemblington to the south.
How to get there: via the bridleway from Panxworth Road at grid ref. TG 351129 or from the southern end of the bridleway at TG 352119.
The fen has a history of rough summer grazing. Cattle and horses were free to graze over the fen and the vegetation was regularly mown to increase the amount of palatable grass and decrease the amount of sedge. The course grasses, rushes and sedge, once cut, were used as marsh litter and hay. The beds of Norfolk reed here were never very extensive and were of too poor quality for thatching. In an attempt to improve grazing, further drainage ditches were dug before the First World War, these being dug by hand and kept open with thorn and willow faggots laid along the sides. During and after the Second World War a tracked excavator was used. However, drainage reduced the volume of water beneath the peat causing it to shrink and its levels to drop. When the Internal Drainage Board abandoned the main drain in the early 1980s the surface of the fen began to flood as the unattended drain became choked with vegetation. The fen became wetter and wetter and virtually unusable. Without grazing, it was quickly smothered by tall rank vegetation. The fen lay derelict for two years, used only for shooting, before its potential for nature conservation was recognised.
This is a diverse site supporting several habitat types over a small area which include tall-herb fen and fen-meadow, scrub, ponds, ditches and a flowing stream which forms the northern site boundary. Large areas are dominated by common reed and reed sweet-grass, with a fen-meadow community at the heart of the reserve supporting a species-rich flora which includes southern marsh-orchid (see here for annual orchid count results), common marsh-bedstraw, greater bird's-foot-trefoil, marsh-marigold, marsh thistle, water mint, yellow rattle, wild angelica, hemp-agrimony, meadowsweet, blunt-flowered rush, branched bur-reed, lesser pond-sedge and marsh horsetail. The stream forms an interesting and attractive boundary. It has a variable flow and depth, and supports abundant water-starwort with alder and greater tussock-sedge at the edges. Lines of mature trees, carr woodland and scrub form the remaining boundaries and are invaluable for foraging birds, including willow warbler and siskin, and insects such as hawking dragonflies.
Walsham Fen boasts an impressive fauna which includes Chinese water deer, water vole, woodcock, common snipe, woodpeckers, warblers (including Cetti’s), grass snake, common frog, hornet, dark bush-cricket, short-winged cone-head (also a cricket) and glow-worm. At least 15 species of butterfly and 10 species of dragonfly have been recorded to date.
The current labour-intensive management regime is aimed at mimicking grazing to maintain the open tall-herb fen and fen-meadow. The fen-meadow is given priority and is mown annually to prevent the process of drying out and colonisation by coarse herbs, grasses and scrub. Other areas are also cut including the reed which is cut in winter on a two year rotation. Two ponds were excavated in 1989 at the eastern end of the site; these have been rapidly colonised by an aquatic flora and fauna. Just as at Howes’ Meadow, the site requires constant input, with several work-parties taking place each year. The reintroduction of grazing would enhance the site's conservation value and also reduce the need for such a labour intensive workload.
In 1988 BADCOG won an award from the Shell ‘Better Britain’ Campaign in recognition of their work on this fen.
When to visit: In early spring for marsh-marigold and in June for southern marsh-orchid. Sunny days in spring and summer are good for butterflies and dragonflies. July/August for glow-worms. Winter is a good time to see Chinese water deer and birds including woodcock and flocks of siskins.
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Below: Walsham Fen 19th October 2013