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40 years of Strumpshaw Fen

PUBLISHED: 12:13 12 April 2016 | UPDATED: 12:13 12 April 2016

Celebrating 40 years of the glorious RSPB Strumpshaw Fen. Picture: Phil Barnes Photography

Celebrating 40 years of the glorious RSPB Strumpshaw Fen. Picture: Phil Barnes Photography

Phil Barnes Photography

RSPB Strumpshaw Fen is celebrating 40 years, as the RSPB's Rachael Murray reports

RSPB Strumpshaw Fen is a great place for the whole family to learn about and enjoy nature. Picture: Phil Barnes PhotographyRSPB Strumpshaw Fen is a great place for the whole family to learn about and enjoy nature. Picture: Phil Barnes Photography

OVER THE past 40 years, the RSPB has been bringing a precious wetland landscape in the Yare Valley back from decades of neglect and decline so that iconic wildlife such as the marsh harrier, bittern and swallowtail butterfly can once again thrive.

Like the rest of the Norfolk Broads, Strumpshaw Fen is a story of wild, swampy, wooded river valleys that have been exploited and tamed by human beings over thousands of years. The fen habitat we value so much today for its rich mix of plants and wildlife was actually a result of generations of human intervention. Early Britons cleared the dense wet woodland for fuel and timber, and then subsequent generations harvested the sedge and reed that colonised these open areas for thatching, animal feed and bedding.

Then history took a different turn. The First World War and the ascendancy of other industries took their toll on economic activity in the Broads. Gradually, through lack of human intervention, the fens started to scrub over and the complex system of ditches and dykes began to silt up. The many species that were supported by the annual ebb and flow of the farming year began to disappear.

You may be lucky enough to spot the swallowtail butterfly. Picture: Ian RobinsonYou may be lucky enough to spot the swallowtail butterfly. Picture: Ian Robinson

Step forward Dr Martin George, distinguished expert on the Broads (and Strumpshaw resident), and local landowner, Wesley Key. In 1974, both men hatched a plan to save the landscape and wildlife they both valued so much.

By early 1975, RSPB Strumpshaw Fen was born. Over the next decades Mike Blackburn, the first RSPB warden, and his valiant band of volunteers cleared scrub, reinstated ditch management, reintroduced haymaking and a grazing regime. Gradually, the fen habitats that had been so nearly lost were once again giving a home to the plants and wildlife we all love so much today.

The fantastic work still goes on and since 1980, trails and hides have been created so that people, as well as wildlife, can enjoy the site. Today, tens of thousands of visitors enjoy this magical place each year.

Mike Blackburn, the first warden at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, and his children Mike Blackburn, the first warden at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, and his children "jetting" the floating vegetation as part of the work to recreate the broad in front of Reception Hide at the fen

Join in the fun at Strumpshaw Fen this spring with a programme of events to help celebrate their birthday.

Firstly the 40th Birthday Big Wild Party on Sunday 22 May 2016 (11am–4pm) in which the RSPB needs your help to record all the different creatures and plants that make a home at the reserve. What other-worldly creatures are lurking in the ponds? What’s crawling through the peaceful woodlands and how many different jewel–like insects are flying in the sunlit meadows? If you are feeling energetic, you’ll also be able to explore the quiet country lanes around Strumpshaw by bike or take a canoe trip through this glorious stretch of the River Yare. Bring a picnic and a sense of adventure!

The fen as it was in the 1930s. Picture: Norfolk County Council Library and Information ServiceThe fen as it was in the 1930s. Picture: Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service

If you are a regular visitor to the Fen then why not take part in the 40th Birthday Challenge. The RSPB has chosen 40 special species that can be seen throughout the year at Strumpshaw Fen – so pick up a challenge sheet from reception hide and see how many you can find. Keep visiting and spotting throughout the year – will you be the first to spot all 40?

Also thanks to funding from Sport England, the RSPB’s Active in Nature officer Ed Parnaby is running a programme of events throughout the year to encourage people of all ages and abilities to get outdoors and become more active. Join Ed for a 5km run in the wild landscape of Buckenham Marshes, enjoy a leisurely bike ride around the quiet country lanes around Strumpshaw Fen or escape the pressures of the modern world with a gentle paddle through the waterways on the River Yare. See www.rspb.org.org/strumpshawfen; 01603 715191.

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