£1.6m project will help turn Norfolk river into a wildlife haven

The upper Bure River. Picture: MURRAY THOMPSON

The upper Bure River. Picture: MURRAY THOMPSON - Credit: Archant

Around £1.6m is to be spent on improving a Norfolk river to help it become a haven for wildlife.

An otter in the River Gadder at Oxburgh Hall. Picture: JUSTIN MINNS

An otter in the River Gadder at Oxburgh Hall. Picture: JUSTIN MINNS - Credit: Archant

The National Trust has announced a project to restore the upper Bure and make it more accessible for human visitors.

A spokesperson said the works, to start in autumn, would be done in partnership with local landowners and tenants and would involve improving the river's water quality and creating new habitat ponds.

She said: 'Working in collaboration with others we will restore the river and its tributaries, improve water quality, ease passage for fish such as bullhead and trout and protect endangered species such as the water vole and eel.

'We want rivers and catchments that are healthy, clean and rich in wildlife. That are easily accessed, valued and loved for their heritage and beauty.'

She said nearby footpaths would also be looked at to improve access.

The Bure rises near Melton Constable in north Norfolk and flows through Blickling and Felbrigg estates, onto the Norfolk Broads and into the sea at Gorleston.

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It is one of only around 200 chalk streams in the world - 160 of which are in England.

It is hoped the works will have the same benefits as a restoration project on the River Gadder in west Norfolk. The Gadder, which runs through the National Trust-owned Oxburgh Hall, has since become a haven for otters.

The improvements to the Bure will be part of a £10m 'Riverlands' scheme set to benefit five rivers across the UK.

Only 14pc of England's river catchments are in a good condition, as intensive farming, pressures from development and climate change take their toll, the National Trust said.

But Hilary McGrady, the National Trust's director general, said the UK's environmental decline was not the fault of farmers.

She said: 'For decades they have been squeezed by the supermarkets on price and provided with public funding based on the amount of land they can farm rather than on producing positive outcomes for the environment and for people.

'With the right support farmers can continue to innovate, becoming more profitable, sustainable and nature-friendly.'

Otters: Sightings on the rise

The resurgence of the otter on the River Gadder is seen as an indicator that a river is at its healthiest.

Back in 2013, staff at Oxburgh Hall observed water levels noticeably dropping in the moat and work began to repair the leaks.

The work involved repairs to the brick weir and river sluice. Whilst the team readdressed the Victorian engineering, they also removed 1,000 cubic metres of silt from the river bed.

Helen Gregory, the National Trust's outdoor manager at Oxburgh Hall said: 'The reduction in silt has resulted in higher water levels, making it easier for otters to swim along this stretch of river. It's fantastic to have had so many more sightings this year, as otters are a sign of a healthy wetland ecosystem.

'In England, the otter disappeared dramatically between the 1950s and 1970s.

'This year we've had far more sightings of what we believe to be a mother and two cubs. They've even been spotted in the moat.'

River Bure: Home to many species

Stretching out for 32 miles, the River Bure is the longest on the Norfolk Broads.

The region is becoming home to ever more wildlife including birds like teal and wigeon, reed and sedge warblers.

The marsh harrier has made a comeback and bittern numbers have also increased in recent years, according to the Broads Authority.

The river's waters are home to many species of fish including perch and pike, and harvest mice and water shrews live in the nearby fens.

The region is also home to Britain's largest butterfly, the swallowtail, and the rare Norfolk hawker dragonfly.

To celebrate Norfolk's rivers, the National Trust is inviting visitors to Oxburgh Hall on Tuesday, August 7 for an event called 'Going with the Flow', where they will have the chance to get up close to fish, crayfish and other creepy crawlies.

The event will run from 10.30am to 4pm and features stalls and activities.