Interesting Times

Blogging is fun and I have enjoyed the experience so far but once in a while we have to turn to the serious. I have been going on about our event in Coltishall for sometime and I don’t apologise for that as it is important as the seed-corn of our finances to do things on and around the river that will make a real difference. Therefore I will be giving further information to you later in this blog although the picture is now very nearly complete. Firstly though I want to address a few issues that we are really about.

I have spoken before about my newness to all this and the fact that I am on a steep learning curve so with the caveat that I’m bound to get some things wrong due to inexperience let me share with you some of my current understanding. This has really been triggered by a meeting I, and a couple of others, had with one of the local farming estates that include the river where we were talking about their stewardship. Firstly I must preface my remarks with the observation that the Bure between Aylsham and Coltishall is a man made river or, more accurately, a man altered river. Very little of the original remains, it is heavily canalised and engineered to support mills, drainage, flood relief and, yes, navigation. I mention this because there really is no natural environment left on the river; it is all man made and dominated. The purpose of BNCT is to conserve and preserve; we are, if you like, a friend to the river and we have to balance many competing interests.

There is for example the issue of access. This is important to us as we want to see a footpath all the way from Aylsham to Coltishall and we have talked about the right to responsible access for all. This includes sometimes competing groups such as walkers, canoeists, naturalists and anglers. All of these user groups have different requirements of the river environment and sometimes they are in opposition to one another. For example the fishermen like a quiet bank and the walkers like to walk along it. The canoeists like to launch and recover their canoes but in the process this causes damage to the bank which could ultimately threaten the footpath. We have to juggle these competing interests and, if we can, find compromises but I know that we are not going to be able to please all user groups  all of the time; it simply isn’t possible. So we must be even handed and as we progress in to the future we will need to find projects that protect the rights of these different groups without directly threatening those of others. An example, which is a personal view and not BNCT policy, is the provision of canoe slips at some strategic spots and then insist that launching and recovery can only take place from these locations. They might slightly scar the immediate location but they will protect the rest of the bank and everybody would know the rules which I would like to think would lead to self policing. Current difficulties come from the fact that there are no facilities but I have news for the landowners – whatever they say or do the walkers and canoeists are not going to go away; they must learn to accommodate them and we can help with that process. Another simple example would be the provision of litter bins (possibly sponsored) at strategic points. Litter is a problem along the river and everyone has a role in that. We have also talked about interpretation boards which should help all user groups understand the history, flora and fauna of the Bure Valley; we could combine these with a few seats along the way. Small, simple things that would make a big difference to people’s enjoyment of the river.

Oxnead pre-flood courtesy of the Norfolk Picture archive

The wider landscape is more difficult. We are about conservation but what is it that we want to actually conserve? Photos of the river in the Navigation’s day show a distinctly different river. For one thing it is industrial (in that it supported business as it’s reason d’etre) but is also wider and more open with fewer trees and more pasture. The width is because it was maintained albeit poorly towards the end. The pasture is more difficult as ancient woodlands in river valleys were cut by early man to create agricultural land use. You also have other responsibilities to consider in the mix and that is the wider rural economy and the rights of farmers to make a living from their land. Do we for example condemn the cutting of non-indigenous tree species which were originally planted as a cash crop but happen to visually look stunning. This was just the situation at Oxnead earlier this year. The removal of these trees had a big impact but it wasn’t universally condemned as some thought the opening up of the view, or a return to how it used to be, as an actual improvement. What vegetation replaces such trees is important and landowners do have a responsibility to ensure that such replacement is more in keeping with the wider environment than that which has been removed.

Oxnead in 2007 copyright Stu Wilson

It is a permanent balancing act between conflicting interests and we’re not always going to get it right. The key though is, to use that modern term, engagement. We need to be involved in the process as a consultee although we cannot take ownership as there will always be differing views. We are not landowners and probably never will be although I would favour fund-raising to buy parcels of riverside land should they come on the market but we should always try and think what we would do if the land was ours given all of the competing interest. We need to encourage stewardship in the interests of the river and its users but that must include at least acknowledging the effect on the rural economy.

I haven’t even mentioned the wildlife or invasive species of both flora and fauna. I will just say that we should, in my personal opinion, have a simple wildlife policy and that is to campaign and ensure that the environment on the river is the best that it can be to support the biggest variety of natural, indiginous species and to work hard to eliminate those that should not be there. It’s overly simplistic as there will always be complications like the Cormorants which I covered in an earlier blog which don’t belong and cause damage but, in my opinion, cannot readily be removed either. Mink, Himalayan Balsam and Knotweed now they are different matters.

It’s all enough to give me a headache.

THE EVENT – explained

The Coltishall event organised by BNCT but benefiting the Coltishall Commons Trust and the Norfolk Wherry Trust as well will take place on Lower Common, Coltishall between 12 noon and 5pm on Sunday 26th August 2012. This is 100 years to the day since the flood which caused navigation to cease and washed away most of the bridges. It also caused loss of life elsewhere in Norfolk and we should also pause to remember that fact.

There will be -:

  • The Albion, the last trading Wherry, which is actually coming up to the Common on the 25th and should come through Wroxham on her way there between 1300 & 14:00 (she’s aiming for low water at the Bridge which is at 13:39) – she is carrying a cargo of beer that will be on sale later in the Rising Sun pub.
  • Other historic boats such as the Houseboat Heather (also arriving on the 25th)
  • The Museum of the Broads
  • Exhibitions
  • Charity stalls
  • A stall selling the new book which is the definitive history of the Navigation – “Sail and Storm” (pre-publication copies available – formal publication is in Aylsham on 16th September).
  • Traditional English fête type games
  • Bouncy Castle
  • Tombola
  • Raffle
  • Food – including a Hog Roast, cakes and Ice Cream
  • Drink

The event is free to enter.

How to get there

  1. By Boat – you would be very welcome but there will be limited mooring.
  2. By Bus  – Sanders are running a Sunday Service on their normal routes to Coltishall from Norwich and North Walsham.
  3. By Car – car parking is limited in Coltishall but we will have a parking site on the Football field on Rectory Road. Interestingly you can also park at Hoveton opposite the Bure Valley Railway Station in the Roy’s overspill car park which they are kindly allowing us to use. Please see below for how you then get to the event itself. PLEASE PARK RESPONSIBLY.
  4. By Train – Greater Anglia Services to Hoveton and Wroxham and the Bure Valley Railway to their Wroxham Station (see below).

One of the innovations at our event is the use of a shuttle bus which we’re running from the Bure Valley Railway car park at WROXHAM to the EVENT and also the RECTORY ROAD CAR PARK. The timetable can be downloaded here. BNCT Bus Event Timetable flyer finalised

The bus we are using copyright John Moore and Spratts of Wreningham

We will have to make a small charge for the use of the shuttle bus (adults £2 return from Wroxham, children £1 & £1 /50p each way to/from Rectory Road which is also walking distance.

If you are able to spare the day to help us out please let us know and also for more information please contact

Phew, a marathon blog and on the new laptop as well which is now working as it should after some initial fun and games (see previous blog). The only trouble is that it has become a cat magnet so goodbye until the next time from me and also from kittyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

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