Flordon Common covers almost 14 hectares of land in the valley of a small tributary of the River Tas which rises in the Hethel / Wreningham area. About 10 hectares are classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because of the rare plants and creatures found in this fenland habitat. The remaining 4 hectares include the village recreation area near The Street and the area west of the road to Hapton, known as 'Further Common'. The Common is managed by South Norfolk Council in partnership with the parish, graziers committee and Natural England. It has been described as 'a haven of botanical delight', 'a fantastic place for observing wildlife'
In 1908-9, an intensive survey of the wildlife of the Common was carried out two naturalists William H Burrell & William G Clarke, and published by the Norfolk & Norwich Naturalists' Society (NNNS) in 1910. Exactly 100 years later the same Society organised a similar survey to discover the changes that have taken place and the rarities to be found today. Their findings were published in 2010 in the Transactions of the NNNS Vol. 43 Part 1. Some of the participants are local residents and much of the information here is taken from those findings.
A Brief History of Flordon Common by Janet Negal
We have evidence that people have been using Flordon Common for thousands of years. Burrell & Clarke (1910) refer to Neolithic flint implements there and as recently as 2009 an Early or Middle Bronze Age (2350 - 1000 BC) flint scraper was found (below).
Flordon Common is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, although this mainly wet uncultivated area must have existed then. The first mention of it comes in the earliest surviving Glebe Terrier for Flordon in 1613 which refers to the Common and implies that at an earlier unspecified time it extended further down the valley in which it now lies.
The area was certainly known to 19th century naturalists..... in [the Transactions of the NNNS] Vol. 4 there is a list of the plants found on the Common in August 1885. Members of the Norwich Science Gossip Club made an excursion to the Common by wagonette in May 1899. Ten years later, Burrell and Clarke visited the Common regularly over two years culminating in their detailed report in 1910. On their visits, they met Mrs Potter who had commoners' rights but lived in a freehold property beside the Common.
When, on 23rd January 1954, the Eastern Daily Press carried the headline 'Naturalists' Haunt at Flordon Being Drained for Cultivation', all who valued this precious and well-documented wildlife habitat were greatly concerned. Flordon Parish Council had assumed an overall responsibility for the Common, had put the land out to tender and authorized drainage work to be carried out. Deep ditches had already been dug as a preliminary to more intensive agricultural reclamation when the work was halted as the result of an inquiry held by Norfolk County Council. Fortunately, these drainage ditches appear to make little permanent difference to the flora because the area is fed by several springs.
When Ida Holmes (granddaughter of the Mrs Potter who met Burrell and Clarke, and the fourth generation of her family to live at Harvey House next to the Common....) found her common rights being compromised, she took legal action. After a twelve-year legal wrangle, culminating in 1966 in a case before the County Court in Norwich, she finally won her battle. This meant that those with commoners' rights were free to exercise them and Flordon Common would not be put to the plough.
In 1959 the Common became a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). A reason for the notification at that time was that it was considered to be one of the best examples of a calcareous spring-fed fen (rare in Britain) to be found in Norfolk. Mention was also made of a rare species of mollusc, especially the tiny Narrow-mouthed Whorl Snail (below).... Flordon Common is now one of the component SSSIs of the Norfolk Valley Fens Special Area of Conservation....
In the legal sense, the term 'common' refers to the rights held in common by certain people over a piece of land and not the ownership of the land which normally rests with a single person, such as the Lord of the Manor..... In April 1979, the Commons Commissioner held an enquiry and concluded that no one person was the owner. It therefore remains subject to protection under Section 9 of the Commons Registration Act 1965. This states that any local authority in whose area the land is situated may take steps to protect it from unlawful interference in the same way that an owner would.
A Very Special Place
The Common lies in the valley of a tributary of the River Tas. This stream has cut through the surrounding boulder clay deposits into the underlying sands and gravels; these occupy the valley floor and sides....Underlying [these] is the Upper Chalk... In places it comes within two metres or less of the surface.... The fen [is] maintained by water flowing from the chalk through the sands and gravels on the valley sides into the fen.
From 'Hydrogeology' by Peter Lambley
The map in Burrell & Clarke's 1910 article shows little or no woodland at all.... The 1946 aerial photograph shows small areas of woodland in the SE corner of the Western Common... and one part of the southern boundary of the Eastern Common.... The modern aerial photograph graphically illustrates the present extent of the alder woodland in the southern part of the Eastern Common.... The alder is encroaching on some of the most important areas of habitat.... The Common is certainly drier now than it was in 1910.... In 1922, Clarke described six springs "...which bubble up with considerable force...", and where still present, these are now mostly little more than seepages.
From 'Introduction to Flordon Common' by Bob Ellis
Below is poem by Edward Peake read at the visit of the Norwich Science Gossip Club in 1899 listing the many species they might see. Then there is a summary of some of the rarer and more unusual plants and creatures that were recorded on Flordon Common in the survey presented in Transactions of the NNNS Vol 43 Pt 1 2010 (where there are detailed comparisons with 1910, full lists of species and their Latin names).
Just down the lane where Flordon Church
stands grey upon the hill,
Above the quiet village, where
the Tas begins to fill.
There, bounded by the silent stream
that skirts the village street,
you'll find the fairest Common near,
a water-meadow sweet.
It is an ancient Common, that
where each and all have right;
an open space by heritage,
the natives' calm delight.
It is old Flordon Common, far
the richest one I hold,
where we may gather rarest flowers
and wealth of marigold.
The buckbean, and the yellow flag
grow just beyond the brink,
to tempt unwary youthful feet
that venture ere they think.
On one side hides a wide, deep ditch,
on the other flows a brook;
before us lies the open green,
inviting us to look.
The water hides below the moss;
the moss has drunk its fill;
the sundew and the butterwort
hold weary insects still.
2 species of Eyebright
Narrow-leaved Marsh-orchid (+ 9 other orchid species)
+ 216 other plants, including trees
Nearly 100 species of mosses and liverworts
NO Stoneworts found in 2010 (2 species in 1910)
27 species of lichens
Lilac Agaris + 165 other kinds of fungus
and numerous kinds of plant galls
The butterfly, and dragon fly
o'er water flit to flower,
nor heed the frog nor water newt,
nor spiders' secret bower.
The gulls and mews are wailing high,
the cuckoo cries "I pass",
the snipe are swooping "drumming" round
above the nested grass.
Behind the hedge of lilac sweet,
in broken, crumbling clay,
there stands a lonely cottage wreck,
the garden's sad decay.
The honeysuckle now untrimm'd
in native wildness grows;
the nettle ousts from unkept beds,
the lily and the rose.
The place is old, and very drear,
the wind steals o'er the grass;
so by the nodding saxifrage
we'll watch the shadows pass.
With adder's tongue and quaint eyebright,
tway-blade and pansy prim;
with cotton grass, and quaking grass,
we'll make a pony trim.
In season then, we'll gather here
wild roses while we may;
and so forget the flight of Tim
in Flordon, as we stray.
Roe deer; Muntjac deer; Bank vole; Field vole; Wood mouse; Yellow-necked mouse; Common shrew; Pygmy shrew; Water Shrew; 8 species of Bat; + common species (grey squirrel; rabbit; hare' hedgehog; mole; fox; stoat and weasel)
Cuckoo; Turtle Dove; Stock Dove; Song Thrush; Mistle Thrush; Green Woodpecker; Whitethroat; Willow Warbler; Dunnock; Bullfinch; Reed Bunting (all of conservation concern); Common Buzzard & Little Egret (not in 1910). 3 species of Owl; NO Lapwing, Snipe, Grey Partridge or Coot (all in 1910) + 25 other species.
REPTILES & AMPHIBIA
Common Frog; Common Toad; Smooth Newt; Common Lizard; Grass Snake; Slow-worm
20 butterfly species (incl. the Small Tortoiseshell) & 378 moth species (incl. Grey Carpet & Marsh Pug)
3 species of Dragonflies; 4 of Damselflies
9 species of bush-cricket and grasshopper
All 6 common species of Bumblebee + solitary bees, wasps, ants - including the very rare ant Temnothorax nylanderi (!)
+ beetles (135 species); bugs (13); earwig (1); spiders (44); crustacea (mainly woodlice); Millipedes & centipedes; several leeches; and molluscs (including the Narrow-Mouthed Whorl Snail that helped gain SSSI status).