Ant Broads and Marshes SSSI restoration

This partnership project covers four nature reserves: Sutton Fen (RSPB), Catfield Fen (Butterfly Conservation), the How Hill National Nature Reserve (Broads Authority) and Barton Broad National Nature Reserve (NWT).

fen orchid

The project is situated in the upper reaches of the River Ant, one of the five principal river systems within the Broads, the UK’s largest protected wetland. The Broads National Park supports one of the most extensive areas of lowland fen habitat in Britain. 

Together the four sites support most of the UK conservation priority species associated with this habitat, including the largest colony of fen orchid and the highest density of swallowtail butterflies in Britain, which have the lowest risk of impact from sea level rise.

Overall we will monitor and model water and restore fen to enhance habitat quality across all the nature reserves. This work is critical to prevent the loss of over 5,000 fen orchid plants and continued loss of fen habitat.

Broads Authority involvement

As part of this work, we will be working at How Hill National Nature Reserve (NNR) in the following ways:

  • Creating conditions for rare plant communities to thrive by reconnecting natural underground water flows from the upland woods down to the wetland fen edge.

To achieve this, a small length of ditch, previously dug to drain the land, will be filled in. In addition, some trees will be removed along the woodland edge to restore a more open transition habitat between the wet fen and drier upland. The tree removal and thinning will be conducted sensitively in order to increase the health of the remaining woodland and encourage the growth of the understorey, whilst maximising the value of the restored wet seepage habitat and the wood for wildlife.

  • Clearing dykes that have grown over with reed, using amphibious machines, to create places for bittern to feed on fish and amphibians. Bittern breed regularly at How Hill NNR and rely on a good supply of for over a large are of reedbed for their survival.
  • Digging out scrapes, or lower areas, to fill with water and create more interesting places for plants, invertebrates and birds on the marsh area that is grazed by our native breeds of ponies.  Low ground pressure excavators will be carefully used to create these scrapes.
  • Improving public access to the How Hill NNR by creating a path that avoids having to cross a damp fen meadow, known as the wildflower meadow. This should give people a better experience on the nature trail, with no more soggy shoes.
  • Providing new interpretation for the Nature Trail at How Hill.

Water managers from across the UK will also be using an ecological model called PCLake. Guided by our contractor from the Netherlands, Witteveen+Bos Consulting Engineers, we are predicting how effective future lake restoration measures for Barton and Ranworth Broads could be. This first-time use of this model in England will discover the critical nutrient levels for recovery of the broads and aquatic species. This information will be used alongside the Environment Agency and Natural England’s assessment of diffuse water pollution. Together this information will inform the future investment required to support the recovery of the shallow lakes.

Funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development – Water Environment Grant and Biffa Award

The Ant Broads and Marshes SSSI Restoration Project has received a grant of £300,000 from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. This is 100% funding meaning that partners can really help improve wildlife habitats over a two-year period. Funding from Biffa Award has also been gained for using the PCLake ecological model on Barton and Ranworth Broad. The projects help partners understand and improve the incredible nature and environmental assets within the Broads. The floodplain fens of River Ant provide the Broads best hope for freshwater species to survive saline flood water for future generations to enjoy.

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