Butterfly Conservation‘s Catfield Fen and the RSPB’s Sutton Fen nature reserves in Norfolk are nationally recognised for their special wildlife.

The adjacent sites are found within the Ant Broads and Marshes Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and form part of The Broads Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The reserves are exceptionally rich in wildlife, one of the most important UK sites for water beetles and wetland plants.  Strongholds for priority species such as One-grooved Diving Beetle Bidessus unistriatus, and the rare Fen Orchid Liparis loeselii, that have now all-but disappeared from the majority of the UK. Together, Catfield and Sutton Fen support over 90 per cent of UK fen orchid populations, and are home to large populations of Swallowtail Butterflies Papilio machaon, Water Voles Arvicola amphibious and Norfolk Hawker Dragonflies Aeshna isoceles.  The sites are used by rare species including cranes, Bitterns Botaurus stellaris, Marsh Harriers Circus aeruginosus and Otters Lutra lutra.

Two plants which have been the focus of the People Ponds and Water project; Tubular Water-dropwort Oenanthe fistulosa and Greater Water-parsnip Sium latifolium grow in such abundance at these sites they are considered common – incredible when you consider the scarcity of these species in most parts of England.

The unpolluted ditches and ponds of Sutton Fen are also home to many species of Stoneworts. Through Flagship Ponds project a thorough survey of the site was conducted by national Stonewort expert, Nick Stewart. The work revealed that Sutton Fen is home to no fewer than 7 species of Stonewort – to put that into context, 5 species on one site qualifies as an Important Stonewort Area! The most significant finds were Nationally Scarce Hedgehog Stonewort Chara aculeolata and Nationally Rare Rugged Stonewort Chara rudis. Nick also took the time to run a one-day training session to provide local volunteers and site managers with the skills to identify the key species during their own surveys in the future.

Freshwater Habitats have a long history of working with RSPB at Sutton Fen, having created many new ponds at the reserve through the Million Ponds Project – this work showed that if you create new, clean water ponds close to rich, ancient fenland freshwater habitats, those ponds will quickly be colonised by an exceptional variety of freshwater plants and animals. Sutton Fen shows that creating new ponds near existing high quality habitats is an excellent way of creating new habitat for many endangered freshwater plants and animals.

Location: Norfolk

Accessibility: Some Flagship Pond sites are accessible to the public, and some are not. If in doubt, consult maps for rights of way, look online for site information, or contact the site manager, and follow any instructions on site. It is up to you to check whether you require permission to visit and access the ponds on a site.

Site owners/managers: RSPB & Butterfly Conservation