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Broad's beauties

PUBLISHED: 06:20 10 November 2014

Richard Mason, warden of the Catfield and Sutton Fen RSPB nature reserves.  Picture: James Bass

Richard Mason, warden of the Catfield and Sutton Fen RSPB nature reserves. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk © 2014

Richard Mason, warden for the RSPB Sutton Fen, tells us about life at this remarkable site near Stalham.

What got you interested in wildlife?

I have lived in the countryside since I was young. My father is a gardener, so when I was a child I often spent time in the garden with him, and my mother took me out bird watching, so enjoying wildlife has always been a part of my life.

Why are you so passionate about protecting sites like Catfield and Sutton Fen?

Both sites are almost the stuff of myths. Among conservationists, they are held in awe, well known as places where rare species that few have ever caught sight of can be found. It is a dream to be able to help to protect such important sites.

What have been your highlights so far?

The most rewarding thing is seeing the successful results of the restoration work the RSPB has been carrying out over the past eight years. Through the improvements we have made, we are now seeing vulnerable species start to colonise areas of restored habitat, making it an even more significant site for UK wildlife. That, and a barn owl landing on my head while I was surveying marsh harriers!

Describe a typical day in the life of an Royal Society for the Protection of Birds warden

At this time of year, I get up at 5am to carry out a marsh harrier survey, and see the fledglings honing their flying skills. I’ll often work with our contractors who carry out tasks such as sedge-cutting to enhance the habitat. My day will end around 5pm, when I head home after a tiring but rewarding day in the great outdoors.

Quiet places, amazing sights

Norfolk is well known for its big wildlife spectacles. People travel for miles to see flocks of whirling waders on the north Norfolk coast, seal pups bring the “cute factor” to sites like Blakeney Point, and starling murmurations mesmerise us across the county as autumn sets in. But there is a quieter side to the wildlife this county boasts. Tucked away in the heart of the Norfolk Broads are the RSPB’s Sutton Fen and Catfield Fen, owned by Butterfly Conservation and managed in partnership with the RSPB.

Together, they are part of the most important area of fen in north west Europe, supporting over a quarter of the UK’s rarest species.

Wildlife highlights including the swallowtail butterfly, water voles, Norfolk hawker dragonflies, bitterns, marsh harriers and otters. Catfield and Sutton Fen are also home to almost 100pc of the UK’s fen orchid population, an unassuming green flower that relies on this special wetland habitat.

Sites under threat

Despite their significance for wildlife, these incredible sites are at risk. The Environment Agency is currently considering the renewal of two licence applications to enable a landowner to remove water from adjacent to Catfield and Sutton Fen to irrigate crops, an activity that has been taking place since 1986. Since the early 1990s, the RSPB has voiced concerns about the drying of the fens and the threat to some of the country’s rarest species, and is objecting to the renewal of these water abstraction licences. See www.rspb.org.uk/catfieldfen for information on the RSPB’s bid to protect one of Europe’s most important wetland sites and how to get involved.

Explore

Catfield Fen and Sutton Fen are not open to the public, but you can explore the special wildlife of the Broads at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen. Walk round the reedbeds, woodlands and orchid-rich meadows and you could chance upon marsh harriers, bitterns and kingfishers.

Strumpshaw Fen, Low Road, Tunstall, near Norwich, NR 13 4HB; 01603 715191; www.rspb.org.uk/strumpshawfen

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