On the 16th of January Fenland SOIL coordinated a Farmers Dialogue Event, hosted by the Norfolk Broads Authority. We met at West Somerton Mill which provided panoramic views of a 60-acre reed and sedge bed. Richard Starling, one of the reed cutters from the area, explained the pressures on the reed industry today. Approximately 97.5% of reed for thatching is currently imported, generally at a lower cost and quality, which makes it difficult for Norfolk reed cutters to compete in the market. They are also faced with the challenges of conflicting policy and socioeconomic pressures such as housing costs in the local area.
We then went to look at the Broads Authority’s paludiculture site (which is part of the Paludiculture Exploration Fund). Here they are experimenting growing typha (bulrush) and reed. It was interesting to hear the unique challenges they are facing when it comes to managing the site, such as dealing with brackish water along with pressure from geese and deer. They are also exploring the possibility of reed fibres being used to manufacture construction/insulation materials. More information about the ‘Fibre Broads’ project can be found on the Broads website here.
Having travelled to the depths of Norfolk, we made sure to have a quick visit to the sea at Horsey Gap, where there are significant sea defences in place. This was followed by Waxham Barn, which has the longest thatched roof in the county!
The final stop was at Hempstead Tilting Gate – a solar powered IDB water management structure to control water levels, salinity and ochre. This prompted some good discussions on management of water levels and the new payment rates for raised water tables on peat soils (SW17 and SW18) under Countryside Stewardship. The general consensus is that these still aren’t competitive enough in productive areas of lowland agricultural peat.