Monday, 28 November 2016

The Ovington Ramblers: Swangey Fen

The Ovington Ramblers recently visited the penultimate site in their 90th anniversary tour of  NWT reserves- this was an extra special visit to Swangey Fen. This is a reserve which can be visited but only as part of a prearranged and guided group tour on request so a special day out for everyone.

This week we were privileged to be shown around Swangey Fen, an ancient wet woodland of almost 50 acres near Attleborough.  Our guides were Richard and Hillary, two enthusiastic, hard-working volunteers with an obvious love of the site they have been caring for for the last 20 years. 
Black rush and saw sedge, Swangey Fen

We were given a brief history of the area as Richard told us that a hundred years ago this was an area where the local poor people could come and forage for food and fuel.  It was later taken over by the Otter Trust where a successful breeding programme resulted in the many otters in the area today.  Finally, when the Otter Trust's work was over, they donated the site to Norfolk Wildlife Trust in 2009.

Richard and Hillary visit the fen 3 or 4 times a week during the summer and about once a week in winter, cutting the reeds on a 2 year cycle, clearing pathways, making and repairing bridges and walkways, servicing dykes and checking water levels and so much more. Sometimes volunteer groups give a helping hand with the larger tasks, but Richard and Hillary are always there for the everyday tasks and we take our hats off to them!

At present they are actively helping the growth of the black bog rush, collecting and storing the seeds in an airing cupboard at home.  They are also protecting areas of saw sedge and encouraging the development of this plant which is used by thatchers on the ridge of thatched roofs.
Mound of reeds Swangey Fen
Walking between the birch, alder, ash and sallow you come across huge mounds of reeds and rushes collected from many years' cuttings, which now provide homes for small mammals and snakes. Here and there you can spot a beech tree in its autumn glory shining through the branches of the other leafless trees. 

Wax Caps

At this time of year the fen is very wet and boggy (as two of us found out when we ended up on our bottoms).  You can clearly see lots of different size hoof prints from the numerous red, roe and muntjac deers that frequent the fen.  We also saw where the deer had chewed off all the bark of a fallen sallow to obtain the salacylic acid.  Salacylic acid forms the basis of the common aspirin, so we can only assume there were plenty of deer with headaches that day!


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