Invaders make way for return of the fens: Norfolk's ancient landscape of water and reeds is being recreated by clearing the trees and scrub that took over the habitats

THERE ARE places where you can walk on water in the Norfolk Broads. A floating raft of mud and reedy vegetation known locally as 'hover' can support the weight of an adult, although it wobbles and surges underfoot like a giant waterbed.

The Broads Authority and English Nature, the Government's conservation arm, are trying to recreate hover and other vanishing habitats by digging new, small Broads in the underlying peat. They use their own mechanical excavator which, seen roaring away in a remote, verdant fen, makes a strange sight.

Local people were still digging peat until the end of the last century. Areas of common land were set aside by the parish for the poor to dig out their fuel. These shallow pits would fill with water, reeds would crowd in and, after about 100 years, a layer of hover would build up which might eventually solidify into boggy fen.

Centuries of peat digging meant that the area was always in transition, with unusual plants, birds and insects in a succession of habitats - open water, hover and fen. Hover is home for the fen orchid and the crested buckler fern.

Then the peat digging stopped and the watery, reedy landscape which had existed for centuries began to disappear. The lakes have been so over- fertilised by human sewage flowing down the rivers that only algae and a few small fish can survive. Most of the marshland bordering the lakes and rivers which used to flood regularly has been drained for pasture and crops.

The land that survived undrained was rapidly invaded by trees and scrub because the reeds, sedges and other plants were no longer cut to provide roofing, hay and animal bedding.

With the demise of traditional land uses, the heart of the Broads was in danger of becoming one large, boggy wood with stagnant lakes. It might make a nice view from a cabin cruiser, but in the context of conservation it is drab and degraded.

The Broads Authority and its partners are trying to stop the rot by simulating the bygone rural economy. An 18-ton second-hand mechanical excavator is not the same as dozens of peat diggers, but it is the cheapest, most effective way of getting the job done. Three new ponds have already been created and the Broads Authority plans to dig more right across the Broads.

The machine, owned jointly with English Nature, clears away scrub and trees while scooping out a pit. The depression quickly fills with clean groundwater, clear of sewage and able to support once-abundant aquatic plants, such as the stonewort.

At first, these pits look ugly; large black scars in the greenery. But within a year their banks will be covered in vegetation, reeds fringe the edge and dragonflies are darting everywhere.

Jane Madgwick, the Broads Authority's chief conservation officer, pilots an oblong, flat-bottomed work boat, known as a baking tray, through half a mile of narrow dyke off the River Ant which leads to the first pond, dug 13 months ago. 'It looks brilliant,' she says proudly.

She hopes the new ponds will encourage the return of one of Britain's rarest birds, the bittern. It needs thick reed cover and clear water in which to hunt for fish. 'If there's one species we'd love to get back, it's that one,' she says. Only two pairs bred in the Broads this summer.

(Photographs omitted)

Suggested Topics
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
News
people
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Financial Control Manager - Regulatory Reporting

£400 - £550 per day: Orgtel: Financial Control Manager - Regulatory Reporting ...

Lead Application Developer

£80000 - £90000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am current...

Senior Networks Architect

£65000 per annum + 15% Pension, Health, Travel & Bonus: Progressive Recruitmen...

SAP BW/BO Consultant

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BW/BO CONSU...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices