Speaker: Will Fitch
Reporter: Keith Walker
We were entertained by the current Warden Will Fitch, who gave a fascinating, humorous and informative presentation about one of Norfolk's Natural Jewels.
He started by giving the background of the founder Ted Ellis, who is a legend and who used to supply the EDP with a two hundred word article on a daily basis which was communicated to them by telephone.
Ted Ellis (1909-1986) was a writer and broadcaster who was one of the most-well known and respected naturalists in East Anglia and beyond.
Born in Guernsey of Norfolk parents who returned to Great Yarmouth in 1920, he was the Keeper of Natural History at the Castle Museum in Norwich from 1928-1956, and for forty years he lived with his family at Wheatfen Broad, Surlingham in a remote cottage amongst 130 acres of
woodland and fen. He discovered the property there when its previous occupant sent Ted a huge quantity of Mollusc's many of which were unknown. Ted therefore became attracted to the site and spent many hours there. He was offered the chance to purchase the property on
the previous owner’s death and it was bought by him just after the end of the Second World War.
Although he was a naturalist with a national reputation and his research was highly respected by the academic world, he was a man who had the ability to communicate his enthusiasm to everyone.
Ted sadly passed away in 1986, leaving not only a legacy of natural records and fascinating articles, but living proof that being inspired by nature is one of the most wonderful things we can experience.
Such a man deserves to be remembered, and so the Ted Ellis Trust was founded to do just that by preserving Wheatfen, the nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest that Ted spent so much time in throughout his life.
His wife Phyllis was a formidable partner who shared Ted's interest and continued his life’s work and was instrumental in helping to create a Trust which has managed Wheatfen ever since. She is reputed to serve her guests with such delicacies as Coypu stew and once threw together a vegetarian soup which had a pheasant's foot at the bottom!
One of the Trust’s main aims is to preserve Wheatfen’s rich and fragile ecology, but above all, it wants to keep its land and wildlife accessible for the enjoyment and education of children, students and everyone interested in Nature. Just as Ted would have wanted.
Will has continued the work of previous warden David Nobbs philosophy of restoring the overgrown and silted dyke system that criss-crossed the reserve and was (and still is) essential for its well-being. The reed beds too had to be cleared of scrub, another mammoth task.
With the help of a team of volunteers, the reserve has been gradually and lovingly restored to health. Pathways were laid out and boardwalks and bridges built to enable visitors to explore the delights of the wetland, woods and broads.
Amusingly and lovingly, Will calls his volunteers Beavers and Cows as they physically emulate the work of these animals, whilst not damaging the environment and the highly specialised species that are being nurtured on the Reserve.
Ted Ellis is believed to have identified vast numbers of new species of plants and fungus and Wills' aspiration is to find new things too. He has started his list!
Will makes the point that the Reserve has been a unique freshwater Fen for thousands of years, but the threat of salt water invading the Broads and making it brackish hangs over them.
With global warming there is a real risk that water will invade from Yarmouth via the River Yare in times of extreme weather. This could be this century, but hopefully it will be thousands of years before there is an incursion.
In the meantime the Trust will aim to maintain the Specialised species, the best known being the Swallowtail which occupies only 15 sites in the UK (all in Norfolk). This is proving difficult as there is an infection issue with their host plant Milk Parsley which they are trying to eradicate with the help of the RHS.
The plan remains that the site will remain unspoilt with no gardening and no cafes. Just an idyll for us to get back to nature!
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