Landmark nature project aims to rejuvenate river valley wildlife

Andy Millar, Natural England senior advisor, and landowner Rosie Begg at Gressenhall

Andy Millar, Natural England senior advisor for nature recovery in Norfolk and Suffolk, and Rosie Begg, landowner, at the meandering chalk stream created as part of the Wendling Beck Environment Project at Gressenhall - Credit: Denise Bradley

An ambitious project to create and reconnect habitats for Norfolk's cherished wildlife has become a national beacon for "landscape-scale" nature recovery.

The Wendling Beck Environment Project is one of five schemes across the country which will share an initial £2.4m of funding from Defra and Natural England for a landmark programme to protect wildlife and improve public access to nature.

The partnership of farmers and conservation bodies is working together on land alongside a tributary of the River Wensum near Dereham - with the ambition of driving habitat connectivity across the wider catchment.

One of the ponds created as part of the Wendling Beck Environment Project at Gressenhall

One of the ponds created as part of the Wendling Beck Environment Project at Gressenhall - Credit: Denise Bradley

They aim to restore grassland, heathland, woodland and wetlands to improve habitats for rare wildlife including grey partridge, turtle dove and the green-winged orchid.

As well as opening up corridors and "stepping stones" for wildlife, it will also provide permissive routes for walkers and cyclists, along with links to the Norfolk Trails network.

This would benefit the health and wellbeing of the surrounding community as well as offering educational opportunities for visitors, said the partners.

Helen Dixon, area manager for Natural England, said the project is "taking an ambitious step towards nature recovery in Norfolk".

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"The energy and enthusiasm of the project partners has enabled rapid delivery of work to create heathland and meadows, as well as restoring a stretch of chalk stream to a more naturalised channel," she said.

"We hope that the funding we have been able to provide enables wider land use change as this project develops, and that learning can be shared across the mid-Norfolk landscape."

The project also seeks to inspire the adoption of more sustainable farming practices and improve the landscape’s resilience to climate change, by reducing carbon emissions and managing flood risk.

The turtle dove is one of the species which could benefit from the Wendling Beck Environment Project

The turtle dove is one of the species which could benefit from the Wendling Beck Environment Project - Credit: Ian Burt

Rosie Begg, one of the farmers working with the project, said: "Natural England’s funding is helping to transform our land to create an environmentally and financially sustainable legacy for wildlife and local people.

"We are all excited to be part a project which will give other landowners a blueprint for a new model of land use that has habitat creation, nature recovery and people at its heart."

The development of the project will be overseen by the Wendling Beck Alliance, which comprises four farming landowners, Norfolk Wildlife Trust and Norfolk County Council along with four key advisors - the Nature Conservancy, Norfolk Rivers Trust, the Norfolk Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) and Anglian Water.

The Wendling Beck Environment project at Gressenhall

Andy Millar, second right, Natural England senior advisor for nature recovery in Norfolk and Suffolk, with landowners Rosie Begg, and Glenn Anderson, left, and Ezra Lucas, lead advisor for the River Wensum catchment, at the meandering chalk stream created as part of the Wendling Beck Environment project at Gressenhall - Credit: Denise Bradley

One of the ponds created as part of the Wendling Beck Environment Project at Gressenhall

One of the ponds created as part of the Wendling Beck Environment Project at Gressenhall - Credit: Denise Bradley

Bluebells in the 40-acre wood, within the Wendling Beck Environment Project

Bluebells in the 40-acre wood, within the Wendling Beck Environment Project - Credit: Joe Thompsett

Wetland creation within the Wendling Beck Environment Project

Wetland creation within the Wendling Beck Environment Project - Credit: Joe Thompsett