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Foulden Common is amongst the most important sites for wildlife in Norfolk and covers just under 300 acres. Its value was recognised with its designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1954, a designation which was reconfirmed in 1984 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The site is designated for a number of features: particular chalk grassland, fen, swamp, and wet woodland vegetation communities, and an invertebrate assemblage which includes many rare and uncommon species
A particularly remarkable feature of Foulden Common is the presence of over 350 ‘pingos’ – ponds created in the post-glacial period (13,000 years B.P.), still surviving here as one of the most intact examples in the country, providing a key focus for much of the fen and invertebrate interest of the site. SSSIs represent England’s very best wildlife and geological sites, provide opportunities for people to experience and enjoy some of our most spectacular and beautiful places, and hold the largest remaining tracts of semi-natural habitat in England.
Foulden Common, like many similar sites in the English lowlands, was historically managed by local people, typically by grazing livestock, turf cutting, fen harvesting, and scrub and tree cutting, providing resources for food, fuel and building materials. This established the Common as an open, largely treeless landscape, with the associated wildlife which we value today. The Common was maintained by these traditional practices until they gradually fell into decline, especially in the latter half of the 20th century; the Common then gradually changed in character, becoming more wooded, with the loss of the more open habitats.
Natural England (and its predecessor bodies) has worked with the landowner of the Common since the site’s designation as SSSI to maintain grazing where possible and undertake scrub and tree in relatively small areas, as resources have allowed. Natural England assess the condition of SSSIs to determine whether the notified features are in favourable or unfavourable condition. By 2010 it was evident that despite these efforts the only part of the SSSI in favourable condition was a central area of chalk grassland (approximately 13ha), and that the remainder was in unfavourable condition, owing to a combination of factors, including the loss of fen and grassland to woodland and scrub, and the relatively poor condition of some of what remained. In 2014 the owners of the Common entered into an agreement with Natural England under the Environmental Stewardship Scheme to undertake a significant programme of habitat management and restoration to address the long standing problems affecting the Common, to give it a secure future for generations to come, in line with its national and international important for wildlife.
This agreement includes 4 major elements:
The restoration of a significant area of open grassland, fen and pingos through tree and scrub removal;
The re-introduction of grazing across the majority of the Common;
The restoration and management of sedge beds through rotational cutting;
Improved water level management on the southern fen (Talent’s Fen)
Whilst Foulden Common is well known to some for its diverse yet unique wildlife characteristics it still remains a hidden gem to most. It is worth keeping an eye out for local wildlife groups who do annual tours which range from grizzled and dingy skipper butterfly spotting to flora identicification and bat surveys to nightingales walks. Some of the groups to look out for are norfolk naturalists, butterfly conservation, norfolk wildlife trust and bto.