A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Norfolk Naturally

The nature reserve of Cley marshes is managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, the oldest of 47 wildlife trusts around the country. It looks after over 40 nature reserves and other protected sites including 10 km of coastline, 9 Norfolk broads, 9 National Nature Reserves and 5 ancient woodlands.

Cley is a starkly beautiful area of freshwater pools, grazing marsh and reedbeds. You can follow boardwalks through the reedbeds leading to thatched hides which overlook some of the pools. The northern edge of the reserve is a shingle bank which extends westwards to Blakeney Point, a National Nature Reserve cared for by the National Trust and well known for its seals. Beyond the shingle the North Sea pounds.

Here at the weekend I saw a grey phalarope, a ruff, little stints, little egrets, some avocets, several Egyptian geese, a flock of curlews; and I just missed a Sabine's gull. You might think I'm a knowledgeable birder from all this. No, not at all - I'm a generalist at heart. Specialist at nothing. Hoping to know a little about a lot. Just interested in the world. Especially the natural world.

But we mustn't forget that few things are "natural". Whatever that means. This area certainly isn't. It's been carefully managed for decades to attract a wide variety of birds. And it does attract them - in staggering numbers. Most days of the year it's possible to tick off more than 100 species in the vicinity. Rarities are commonplace. Reedbeds are constantly cut - otherwise they would deteriorate and be no good for thatchers or for the birds, which include rare bitterns and bearded tits. Water levels are carefully regulated.

Once, 750,000 years ago, rhinos, hyenas and elephants roamed here. In medieval times Cley was a bustling port on a tidal estuary. In the 1600s land was reclaimed from the sea and the big ships could no longer anchor. Later the coming of the railways brought a rise in the number of outside visitors. Now there's the nature reserve - and very appealing and wild-seeming it is too. In the future, global warming and higher tides will mean more flooding, more salinity - and the environment will change again.

Environments are continually changing due to natural events, human interference or, more usually, a mixture of both. This is a fact - and it's not always a morally, ethically or emotionally loaded issue. Nice to see here a success story with nature and humankind in partnership. Which is often not the case...

The photo shows high tide at Blakeney.

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