As World Wetlands Day is celebrated today, work gets underway to repair reed habitats on iconic Hickling Broad as part of a new vision to enhance the broad for wildlife and water users.
And the full vision, which was originally developed with the Upper Thurne Working Group and has been agreed by partner organisations and stakeholders, will be delivered through a long term project if funding can be secured.
In the meantime the Broads Authority is creating new reed islands and restoring a sensitive and badly eroded reed margin habitat using novel geotextiles and engineering techniques. And the project is helping to keep access to local facilities, including the boatyard, pub and the Hickling Sailing Club by dredging 3,500 cubic metres from the marked channel this winter.
Wetlands for our Future: Sustainable Livelihoods was selected as the theme for World Wetlands Day in 2016 to demonstrate the vital role of wetlands for the future of humanity and their relevance to sustainable development.
Andrea Kelly, Senior Ecologist said the Hickling project linked in well with this theme, offering benefits for people, wildlife and the local economy.
She said: “This project is a win-win for wetland wildlife and the people who enjoy it as well as the businesses around the River Thurne area of the Broads that depend on the careful management of Hickling.”
Working with conservation partners, including the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Natural England, the Environment Agency and local landowners the aspirations for the Hickling Broad long-term vision are:
• improved waterway depths
• improved aquatic environment in sheltered bays providing more reed bed areas, better water quality, water plants and higher numbers of water birds
• beneficial reuse of dredged material in island construction and bank restoration
• improved understanding by local communities, visitors and partners of the importance of undertaking integrated waterway management projects to enhance the special qualities of the Broads.
The island creation around Duck Broad, built using EU funding, is growing healthy green growth of reed and reed mace and is giving further shelter and refuge to over wintering migratory birds in Duck Broad.
“This is important as wild birds are prone to disturbance from passing boats,” said Ms Kelly. “The Broads is an internationally important wetland and a stop-over for site for hundreds of thousands of water birds.”
Birds such as teal, turfed duck gadwall and widgeon come in winter to congregate in the UK’s wetlands. Of these, many are from the continent from such places as Siberia and Scandinavia, as well as from places such as Iceland.
Ms Kelly said: “At this time, the UK is home to a significant percentage of some of the NW European wintering bird populations, meaning we have an international duty to create quiet refuges for birds.
“Furthermore nationally rare water plants have their home in the Upper Thurne system. Intermediate stonewort occurs only here in the UK, so the survival of this species depends on us. Water plant growth, both in the summer and winter, are attracting more birds over the past few years, such as swan, coot and tufted duck.”
A great way to see Hickling is via a Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) boat trip, these trips give you access to the hidden corners of the National Nature Reserve. Alternatively the NWT reserve, provides newly created excellent views from the north by land. The Weaver’s Way, one of Norfolk’s long distance footpath trails, passes along the south side of the broad.
World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on 2 February. This day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Since 1997, the Ramsar Secretariat provides outreach materials to help raise public awareness about the importance and value of wetlands.
Hickling covers 1.4 km², making it the biggest broad and one of the largest expanses of open water in East Anglia.
Over the years it has got a bit bigger as a result of a combination of factors such as coypu and more recently feral greylag geese grazing the reed and speeding up bank erosion. But it has also become slightly shallower due to this eroded material and build-up of dead algae.
One of the major constraints to working in Hickling Broad is Prymnesium parvum, a microscopic algae that is naturally present in the broad and throughout the Upper Thurne. On occasions this algae can release a toxin that is deadly to fish. Any work in this area needs to be carefully designed to monitor on Prymnesium levels and protect fish health.