Grid Reference: TG 350 128
GPS Coordinates: 52.662031, 1.4750810
Size: 1.5 ha (3.7 acres).
Parish: South Walsham
Owned By: Norfolk County Council
Access Parking: Open to the public. Walsham Fen borders Jary’s Meadow to the south and is adjacent to the Panxworth-Hemblington green lane which runs north/south. Limited parking is available at the south end of the bridleway at Hemblington, entailing an enjoyable 1.5 km walk to site; parking is very restricted at the north end of the bridleway.
Underfoot: Good all round the site via a boardwalk completed in 2005. 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 and scrub.
Main Conservation Interest: Wetland habitats including floristically-rich fen-meadow.
Conservation Status: Local Nature Reserve (notified and opened in 1989) and a County Wildlife Site (since 2003).
Management: Areas managed by BADCOG since 1986 on behalf of NCC Countryside Team. NCC management plan for the fen.
Description: Walsham 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.
Today, 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.
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 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, including southern marsh-orchid (see here for annual orchid counts), 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 labour intensive workload.
In 1988 BADCOG won an award from the Shell UK ‘Better Britain’ Campaign in recognition of our work on Walsham 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.