By Andrew Woodger
Jo Pitt is one of an army of LOHP volunteers aiming to promote wildlife
A countryside group has cleared and restored two pieces of fenland for the benefit of wildlife on the Norfolk/Suffolk border.
The Little Ouse Headwaters Project (LOHP) is aiming to build a wildlife zone along the banks of the river.
"These valley fens are incredibly rare habitat," said Jo Pitt, LOHP volunteer.
The two parcels of land are called Parkers Piece and Bleyswycks Bank and the project includes a new footbridge over the river for ramblers.
"When the sun comes out and the birds are singing, it's just fantastic," said Jo.
"As these fens become smaller and more fragmented they become more vulnerable, so joining them up again becomes part of the important work of ensuring their future."
The parcels of land owned by LOHP are not all joined up, so one of the aims is to do that by buying more land or working in conjunction with sympathetic landowners.
It's estimated there were 16 kingfishers on LOHP land in 2009
The two new pieces of land are next to each other and cover 5 hectares.
Another footbridge has been opened across the river and there are wooden artworks created by Andy Manning and Ben Platts-Mills.
"Instead of your more familiar square board with a lot of information about the site, we've used local sculptors who've created artworks out of local oak and we've inserted the interpretation material onto those sculptures," said Jo.
"We're very keen to open up these sites for the public to visit and we're doing what we can to make them accessible.
"We've now got two footbridges on this section of the river which gives a lot of scope for circular walks."
Bleyswycks Bank had been a commercial tree-growing area while Parkers Piece had been used for pig and arable farming.
The purchase of the land was at what LOHP calls 'market rates' and, as a charity, they're helped by Biffaward, Natural England, St Edmundsbury District Council and around 30 other smaller charitable trusts.
Ben Platts-Mills made the sculpture at the western end of LOHP's wildlife area
Wildlife and pollution
The habitat is already attracting birds such as sedge and reed warblers, cuckoo, snipe, woodcock and oystercatcher.
In the ponds and flooded areas, they're hoping for frogs, toads, newts, aquatic plants, damsel flies and dragonflies.
The land will be grazed by commercial animals, including Norfolk Horn sheep and Suffolk red poll cattle, who'll keep the vegetation in check.
However, the Little Ouse itself had a distinctly milky appearance when I visited in May 2010.
"There's a degree of naturalness to the cloudiness," said Jo. "You get a release of something called ochre from these wetland sites once they've dried out and then re-wetted.
"But then it is an agricultural area, so there will be some run-off from the surrounding fields which will contribute to the sediment in the river.
"It doesn't look like a sparkling headwater stream, but it is a fairly slow-flowing lowland river so it could be better, but it's not a disaster.
"There are various standards which apply under the Water Framework Directive which is European legislation.
"The Environment Agency will assess the status of rivers like this.
"At the moment this river is probably not meeting those standards, but it would be a very long-term effort to deal with diffuse pollution from the catchment.
"There is a catchment-sensitive project funded through Natural England encouraging farming in a way that protects the water system.
"That includes small steps such as not ploughing right up to the edge of the river.
"It takes a long time to restore changes that have been made over many decades - usually to improve agricultural production during and after the Second World War."
The Bishops of Norwich and St Edmundsbury on the new footbridge
The LOHP is totally dependent on wildlife enthusiasts donating their time for free.
There are monthly work parties on Sundays and Wednesdays where volunteers manage the habitat.
"Everybody can come and join in for as little or as long as they want to make use of that 'green gym' to improve your fitness," said Jo.
"We're also looking for help with the admin of the project, so any skills are welcome.
"It's really nice to be just able to come out and see the changes that have occurred over the last few years as a result of all that volunteer activity.
"To my eyes, at least, it's a definite improvement."