Sculthorpe Moor reserve's 'worst flooding in 19 years'

Sculthorpe Moor
Image caption Warden Nigel Middleton said he had to look for another site for grazing cattle

The worst flooding at a nature reserve in 19 years is having a "dire" impact on wildlife, it has said.

Sculthorpe Moor, near Fakenham, Norfolk, closed to the public after heavy rain on Wednesday and Thursday.

Warden Nigel Middleton said the River Wensum had burst in "like a torrent" two or three times a year since work by the Environment Agency four years ago.

The agency denied his claim and said its river restoration work had reduced the risk to communities.

Flood warnings are in place for the Wensum Valley between Fakenham and Swanton Morley, with 30mm (1.2in) of rain recorded in Fakenham in 24 hours.

The ground was already saturated after months of wet weather and the water levels in the Wensum were the highest recorded since 1993, the Environment Agency said.

'Too dangerous'

"I have never seen it like this," said Mr Middleton, who has worked at the Hawk and Owl Trust site since it opened in 2001.

"We cannot graze our sheep and cattle because the meadows are covered in water and it has dire effect on the wildlife we are trying to preserve here.

"It limits the amount of food that barn owls are able to hunt, and silt coming in will be deposited on the aquatic plants and vegetation."

Image caption Walkways for visitors are inaccessible
Image caption Wetland and meadow have merged to create a "sea of water", Nigel Middleton said

He added: "It is too dangerous to open to the public because our boardwalks are submerged and dykes are not visible."

He believes a narrowing of the River Wensum has forced water into the reserve during any heavy rain, which its drainage is unable to cope with.

The Environment Agency said the recent rain had resulted in the river flowing into the reserve, "which is on low-lying land within the natural floodplain".

It added: "This has not been caused by our river restoration scheme which we believe is performing as it was designed to do, reducing the flood risk to downstream communities."

It said it was working with the trust to design and fund improvements.

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