Thetford council moves to allay fears over unique site

Machinery at Barnham Cross Common - photo courtesy of Future Environomics LLP
Machinery at Barnham Cross Common - photo courtesy of Future Environomics LLP

A council is keen to quell fears over work taking place at a popular open space in Thetford.

Seeing large machinery move onto Barnham Cross Common – a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – has sparked concern from some residents who do not know, or understand, why they are there.

Thetford Town Council, which owns the land, is working with Future Environomics LLP, Natural England and charity PlantLife to restore the site’s unique habitat for some of the 11 plant species that have been lost there in recent years.

The process requires removing unwanted scrub and trees and, subject to permission being granted for fencing, will involve introducing a mixed grazing system using traditional breeds of livestock suited to feeding on low nutrient land.

The council says that despite putting up notices around the well-used area and taking out advertisements in the Press, there are still some people who do not understand what is happening.

Town clerk Maurice Howard said: “We started all the major works about four weeks ago and it’s causing a lot of concern. Unfortunately we’re under orders by Natural England to return it to the designation for which it’s famous for.”

He added: “Under the HLS [Higher Level Stewardship] agreement we’ve got to try and bring the site into a favourable condition and therefore try and bring it back to what it’s protected for, and that’s the chalk and acidic heath plant species with areas of bare and disturbed ground. 

“It’s known for plants that survive with little nourishment so the only way we can afford to do this as a council is to bring livestock in to follow up the mechanical operations on site to take the plant life back to ground level in a controlled manner.”

Neil Featherstone, managing partner of Future Environomics, said people associate large machinery with ‘ripping things up and pulling things apart’ so often get concerned when they see it in a ‘perceived natural context’.

He said: “Ultimately what we’re after is more sustainable processes by which we can manage that site in the future rather than addressing its immediate needs by mechanical processes.”

“The cost of mechanical treatments is very high and ultimately the best form of management is controlled grazing,” he added.

The council is hoping the Planning Inspectorate will grant it permission to install fencing around the site’s perimeter.

‘Invisible fencing’ would be used to create internal grazing compartments while kissing gates and bridle gates would maintain pedestrian access.

Mr Howard said the project would also help with the problem of anti-social behaviour on the Common.