Happy Birthday Suffolk Wildlife Trust

Sunday, 20 May, 2012

 High Suffolk has a well deserved reputation for being one of the most beautiful parts of the United Kingdom with ancient woods and unique flats. It is also the home to an internationally renowned population of greater crested newts.

This year is the 50th birthday of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. There are 3,160 members of The Wildlife Trust in my constituency. That’s more than the number of paid up political parties put together! There are 882 acres of reservation land across my seat. The Suffolk Wildlife Trust has battled against reckless development in its 50 years.

At Thelnetham Fen there is the rare opportunity to see the ‘schwingmoor’ – a floating carpet of vegetation that moves above the water – which once was common across large areas of the county but, due to urban development, are now a rarity.

The Trust’s 50 nature reserves give us a glimpse into Suffolk’s rich history.  In Bradfield Wood we can find evidence of when the areas was used as a medieval deer park and how, for almost a millennium, the forest has been shaped by coppicing techniques.

It used to be one of the greatest examples of medieval woodland in the country, became victim to modernized arable farming after the War. It was only through an Emergency Tree and Preservation Order that the forest was saved by bringing the wood into protective ownership. So passionate were local people about saving their forest that it took just seven weeks for them to raise the money needed to buy the woods.

Redgrave and Lopham Fen became the first Suffolk Trust for Nature Conservation reserve in 1961 a bid to preserve the area. It is a post-glacial landscape, a peat and reed filled fen, with a huge range of wildlife. But a borehole was drilled nearby to tap the water and the habitat was gradually drained, drying the surface of the fen and destroying the habitat of wetland species.

Even now, despite knowing much more about eco-systems, developers cannot always anticipate what will happen when you make changes. Micklemere nature reserve has not been a part of the Suffolk landscape for nearly a millennium – in fact it was only created during the construction of the Ixworth bypass! The road altered the natural drainage systems of the River Blackbourne which has formed a wetland incredibly popular with birds and bird watchers alike.

Grove Farm is used as a working example of how farmers can change their farming methods to save local species. Agriculture is a key part of Suffolk’s economy and the Trust are working hard with farmers to show that arable farming can work with preservation methods. In fact, by farming land too heavily the overall output suffers as there are not enough insects to pollinate the crops properly. Methods like restoring hedgerows, reinstating ponds and leaving rough grass areas all provide habitats for wildlife to return, boosting populations of barn owls, great crested newts and farmland birds, which keep the ecosystem healthy.   

Of course it is difficult to predict the full effect of changing the environment – no-one is saying it isn’t. But we should be taking a long, hard look at any kind of new development in green areas when there is a risk that we could damage Suffolk’s delicate ecosystem.  

The variety of wildlife in our relatively small patch is astounding. Did you know that there are over 350 varieties of plants in Bradfield Woods? About the extraordinary flowers in Combs Wood which includes rare birds-nest and greater butterfly orchids? Or even that the rare fen raft spider which was originally thought to exist only in the Redgrave and Lopham Fen?

There is so much to learn about the environment we live in – and the education centres in Bradfield Woods and Redgrave and Lopham Fen educate children and adults alike about the natural world.

These areas are not just for local people to enjoy and use – Suffolk’s booming tourism industry is reliant on the appeal of our unspoilt countryside. In fact, 60 percent of rural tourism and recreational activity is dependent on the landscape and wildlife. If we want to help Suffolk’s economy then we need to protect our countryside too. 

I, for one, love the countryside in my constituency – and it is heartening to know that so many across Suffolk share my passion for the great place in which we are so privileged to live.

So happy 50th birthday to the Suffolk Wildlife Trust – let us make sure we work together to keep Suffolk beautiful.