Work begins on £1.7 million Sculthorpe reserve expansion project
A new £1.7 million project to create an expanded wildlife paradise near Fakenham has been launched this week.
Around 100 supporters gathered at the Hawk and Owl Trust's Sculthorpe Moor reserve on Monday to celebrate the start of work to transform neighbouring lands the group bought earlier this year, following a two-year fundraising drive.
Broadcaster, writer and naturalist David Lindo, known as the Urban Birder, symbolically operated one of the diggers which will create a new 100-acre 'scrape', or shallow wetland on the site.
The area is intended, over the seasons, to attract a wide variety of birds in both summer and winter.
After instruction he moved peat-rich topsoil and said the experience had been "incredible."
He added: “I’m so amazed by the amount of love that’s been shown to the Trust and reserve over the past two years of the appeal by the donors, supporters and volunteers."
Until June, the reserve was a 45 acre site where, over the past 20 years, the trust had been developing an environment to protect a rich variety of wildlife.
Its species include what are known as the United Kingdom's apex predators whose very existence was once threatened by illegal egg collecting and, principally in the north of England and Scotland, gamekeepers protecting grouse, pheasant and partridge shoots.
The extra land, bought from a local farmer after a remarkable fund-raising drive started in 2017, reached its target with the help of a £821,000 lottery grant.
Nigel Middleton, the reserve's manager and conservation officer, was witnessing the realisation of a 18-year-old dream.
Back at the turn of the century he remembered cutting his way onto Sculthorpe Moor's overgrown land to witness Marsh Harriers nesting in the valley of the River Wensum.
He said: "I've dreamed and believed that we could expand the reserve and turn it into a significant place for wildlife and community.
"To reach this point is just amazing, and we couldn't have done it without our volunteers.
"This will be a really fantastic addition to what is already here."
Adrian Blumfield, the trust's chief operations director, added: "Only the generosity of over 1,300 individual donors has allowed us to start to realise Nigel's vision for the reserve.
"Expanding the land is the first step. Now this drastic looking work will ensure a wonderful habitat for wildlife for the future.
"It will be astonishing how quickly this settles and starts attracting birds and other creatures.”
Currently the reserve has some 150 volunteers and after the company, brought into create the wetland scrape, has completed its work volunteers will do much of the rest such as building hides, boardwalks and habitat management.
The Hawk and Owl Trust was founded in 1969 when it owned no land and existed solely to protect birds of prey and actively created environments, such as bird boxes to encourage Barn Owls to nest, thereby reversing their decline.
The reserve is now internationally recognised as important for its wildlife.
The area is an unusual mosaic of woodland, fen and reed bed habitats. Apart from the wide variety of birds that fly in seasonally it is home to such as otters and water voles.
But it more than a wildlife sanctuary. The aim is to involve the whole community in the on-going project by encouraging everyone to access the site and enjoy the wildlife and countryside around them.