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Award for ‘legend’ of conservation who created fen

Norman Sills has been at Lakenheath Fen since it started - he planned the place out and has been boss ever since. He retires on May 31, although he will be coming back to help out.

Norman Sills has been at Lakenheath Fen since it started - he planned the place out and has been boss ever since. He retires on May 31, although he will be coming back to help out.

“I was walking to school there was a bird singing on one side of the road and another singing the same song on the other side, I did not know what they were so I ran to get my friend who said they were two robins.

“Then he said do you want to come look at some wheatears?”

This is how Norman Sills, creator of Lakenheath Fen’s interest in birds and conservation began.

This week the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have awarded Norman a lifetime achievement award.

Norman began his career with the RSPB at Titchwell Marsh, where he worked for 24 years before moving to Lakenheath Fen, which he transformed from carrot fields to a habitat for many rare species.

Norman said: “The whole point of it was that with sea levels rising the reed bed habitats on the coast will be under sea water, the RSPB policy is to create new wetland inland especially reed beds so those new habitats will be up and running before loosing coastal ones.

“I was involved right at the beginning with choosing a site.

“It was seven or eight years of major work and we have created what we set out to do and we have attracted the breeds we intended to attract.”

Lakenheath Fen is now home to rare breeds including bitterns, marsh harriers and bearded tits.

Norman said: “Those three species are very characteristic breeds of reed beds they all nest on the ground and they all will be lost from coastal sites.

“But the cherry on the icing was the two pairs of cranes which nobody anticipated.”

The Stepping Up For Nature awards were decided by RSPB in the east, the judges included TV presenter Mike Dilger and Matt Shardlow, CEO of Buglife.

David White, Information Officer at Lakenheath Fen, said: “He was here right at the start at the creation of the reserve in 1995 and is responsible for what the reserve is today.

“He certainly is one of my role models - he is some of what of a legend in conservation circles.”

Norman said: “At Lakenheath Fen a lot of the hands on work was done by a very keen group of volunteers and I’m very thankful to them for all the help they gave they planted 300,000 reeds by hand - That’s a job and a half.

“It means a great deal for me personally I have been able to put soem new wild habitat back into a place it used to be 400 years ago.”

 

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