Ancient oak blown down in gale

The footpaths through Sawpole and Stambles Plantations (between Beachamwell and Shingham) pass beneath several magnificent oaks which have been growing in this spot for several hundred years. They were measured during the Connecting Threads Footpaths project in 2014 and estimates made of their ages. It is sad to report that during the gales earlier today the tree which is probably the oldest – thought to be 500 years old – was toppled by the fierce winds.

The fallen oak

The fallen oak

A substantial part of the tree had already fallen last year and now the rest is down leaving just the remains of its massive trunk standing.

The massive trunk remains standing

The large trunk remains standing

This tree stood just on the edge of Footpath 15 leading from the woods towards Shingham Methodist Chapel. Thanks to the quick work of the landowner to clear the route the footpath continues to be passable for walkers, although the access point here is narrow.

Access on Footpath 15 quickly cleared by the landowner

Access on Footpath 15 quickly cleared by the landowner

Off the beaten track

Although this site is primarily interested in public footpaths and bridleways, it should be noted that it is possible to walk across some land in Beachamwell without having to use specific rights of way. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW Act) gives a public right of access to land mapped as ‘open country’ (mountain, moor, heath and down) or registered common land. These areas are known as ‘open access land’.

Open access land is shown on Ordnance Survey maps – on the Explorer Series 1:25000 scale maps it is marked with a pale orange border, and woodland areas are tinted yellow.

Access land in woodland areas is tinted yellow

Access land in woodland areas is tinted yellow

However for accurate and up-to-date information on access land visit the Natural England website at:
www.openaccess.naturalengland.org.uk/wps/portal/oasys/maps/MapSearch/

This map shows open access land (coloured pink) in the parish of Beachamwell (extending into Swaffham in the extreme north-west).
 The area is nearly all pine plantation, criss-crossed by forest rides and tracks. One exception is Narford Wood – a small oasis of large oaks, marked on the map in darker red.

Narford Wood

Narford Wood

The age of these oaks indicates that this woodland pre-dates the planting of Thetford Forest in the 1920s. (Forestry Commission records show that they bought land from the Beachamwell Estate in 1924 at a time when they were also buying up large parcels of land from other landowners in the area.) Today Narford Wood makes a pleasant objective for a wander off the beaten track.

Warren Heritage Trail

The Norfolk Trails network brings together over 1,200 miles of walks, cycle and bridle routes throughout the county. These include not only well-known long distance routes, for example Peddars Way, the Norfolk Coast Path, Weavers Way and several others, but also short and circular walks.

The Brecks Norfolk Trails cover

Working in partnership with Breaking New Ground, Norfolk Trails has now launched 15 routes exploring the heritage and natural history of the Brecks. One of these routes – The Warren Trail – follows a  circular route of 4.5 miles around Beachamwell and the site of the ancient rabbit warren here.

Route of the Warren Heritage Trail in Beachamwell

Route of the Warren Heritage Trail shown in red  © Crown Copyright and database rights 2015 Ordnance Survey

An interpretation board has been installed at Beachamwell Village Hall (where parking is also available) giving information about the history of Beachamwell Warren and also wildlife to look out for, including some scarcer species of butterfly and an impressive range of birds of prey.

The Trail has been well signed throughout with the additional benefit of improving signs to other rights of way which join the Warren Trail route, for example as seen below at the crossing junction of Restricted Bridleway 5 (part of the Warren Trail) and Bridleway 3 at Lodge Farm:

New fingerpost installed at the crossing of 2 rights of way at Lodge Farm

New fingerpost installed at the crossing of rights of way at Lodge Farm

Further information

Norfolk Trails
A network of walks, cycle and bridle routes managed by Norfolk County Council

Breaking New Ground
The Breaking New Ground Landscape Partnership was a £2.2m project, largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to explore, discover and celebrate the unique landscape of the Brecks. Although the project ended in June 2017, their website continues to provide a useful archive of their publications and achievements

Beachamwell Warren
The results of fieldwork and archival research by the Breckland Society as published in their excellent survey The Warrens of Breckland (2010). The report noted:

"... surprisingly, considering the dominance of the rabbit in Breckland’s economy for so many centuries, there has hitherto been no definitive study of the history of warrening in the Brecks, nor, indeed, any assessment that draws together the archaeological and archival evidence for the establishment and management of warrens"

The full report, covering all of the Breckland warrens, can be dowloaded here

 

 

 

Footpaths restored

It’s good to have some positive news to report. Two cross-field footpaths which had disappeared following agricultural cultivation have now been re-instated. This followed a request to the farmer who then acted very promptly to mark the route of the paths on the ground. The paths in question are Footpath 23, which strikes out towards Oxborough from beyond Shingham; and the northern section of Footpath 10 which runs from The Lodge back towards Beachamwell.

Footpath 23 recently restored

Footpath 23 recently restored

Note: It is a legal requirement to make good rights of way following cultivation.
GOV.UK says:

You must not cultivate (eg plough) footpaths or bridleways that follow a field edge.

The minimum width you need to keep undisturbed is:
♦ 1.5 metres for a field edge footpath
♦ 3 metres for a field edge bridleway

You should avoid cultivating a cross-field footpath or bridleway. If you have to cultivate make sure the footpath or bridleway:
♦ remains apparent on the ground to at least the minimum width of 1 metre for a footpath or 2 metres for a bridleway, and is not obstructed by crops
♦ is restored to at least the minimum width so that it’s reasonably convenient to use within

› 14 days of first being cultivated for that crop
› 24 hours of any subsequent cultivation, unless a longer period has been agreed in advance in writing by the highway authority

 

 

Only a green thing?

When it comes to trees I suspect that most of us fall somewhere between the two reactions described by William Blake:

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.”

Walking and trees
Walking the paths and tracks of Beachamwell we see trees everywhere, even in our relatively lightly treed (is that a word?) area. Inevitably we sometimes overlook them.

Hawthorn, Beachamwell Fen

Hawthorn, Beachamwell Fen

Yet our affection for trees is firmly rooted in the national psyche, and reflected in the place of the tree in our cultural history – especially poetry, song and folktale. And emotion soon erupts when the chainsaw threatens. Just try chopping down a tree or two in Sheffield and see what happens.

Arboreal anxiety
Increasingly we are worried about our trees and woodlands. The terrible toll taken by Dutch elm disease has been followed by a string of further epidemics, most disturbingly ash chalara. There is also a widely shared belief that our woods have been steadily disappearing over recent decades, either replanted with alien conifers or destroyed entirely in order to make way for farmland or development.

A complex history
Trees in England: Management and disease since 1600 is a new book which examines the present state of our trees and sets it against a richly detailed survey of English arboriculture over the last four centuries.

Remains of a 19th century pine line, Bridleway 2 (north of The Lodge)

Remains of a 19th century pine line, Bridleway 2 (north of The Lodge)

Co-author Tom Williamson is Professor of Landscape History at the University of East Anglia. He has written widely on landscape archaeology, agricultural history, and the history of landscape design. His fellow authors are Gerry Barnes, who served as Head of Environment at Norfolk County Council, and is now a researcher at the University of East Anglia, and Toby Pillatt who is a Research Associate in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield with a particular interest in human relationships with the natural world. Their book suggest that the recent history of trees and woods in England is more complex and less negative than we often assume and any narrative of decline and loss is overly simplistic.

More species, more management
The authors argue that the numbers of trees and the extent and character of woodland have been in a state of flux for centuries. Research leaves no doubt, moreover, that arboreal ill health is nothing new. Levels of disease are certainly increasing but this is as much a consequence of changes in the way we treat trees – especially the decline in intensive management which has occurred over the last century and a half – as it is of the arrival of new diseases. And man, not nature, has shaped the essential character of rural tree populations, ensuring their dominance by just a few indigenous species and thus rendering them peculiarly vulnerable to invasive pests and diseases. The messages from history are clear: we can and should plant our landscape with a wider palette, providing greater resilience in the face of future pathogens; and the most ‘unnatural’ and rigorously managed tree populations are also the healthiest.

trees in england coverTrees in England: Management and disease since 1600
University of Hertfordshire press

ISBN: 978-1-909291-96-6  Price: £16.99 Published: Nov 2017

Described by the publisher as:
“Essential reading not only for landscape historians but also for natural scientists, foresters and all those interested in the future of the countryside.”

Beachamwell PRoWs – network update

Apologies for the break in transmission. Hoping for more regular communications in future!!

Since my last post here the trend in the signing and condition of rights of way in Beachamwell has definitely been for the better. The Warren Heritage Trail in Beachamwell  (more news on this to follow) not only has its own signs but probably even more significantly all junctions with the Trail have also been fullly signed and this has led to a great improvement at some points.

One of the new signs recently erected on the footpath network

One of the new signs recently erected on the Beachamwell Public Rights of Way network

Also earlier in the year the four remaining junctions of paths with metalled roads had their statutorily required fingerposts installed. Unfortunately a post at another junction – Bridleway 11 with the Swaffham Road (opposite the Cockley Cley road junction) has now mysteriously disappeared. Norfolk Highways have promised to re-place it.

Grass-cutting on paths in the summer by Highways has helped keep paths clear, and generally the network is passable throughout. Cross field paths are the most likely to suffer problems following cultivation or by growth of crops. Footpath 10 over Toot Hill is regularly ploughed out but usually re-instated (eventually). Just now the northern section has again been cultivated and the line of the path lost.

Southern section of Footpath 10 currently well-marked through crops

Southern section of Footpath 10 is currently well-marked through crops

Although the pig huts have now gone from Footpath 21 subsequent cultivation there means that the line of the footpath is still not walkable.

The one major obstruction is the longstanding (20 years to my knowledge) problem at Hall Barn involving Footpath 13 and Bridleway 19a.

One of the obstructions affecting Bridleway 19a and Footpath 13

One of the obstructions affecting Bridleway 19a and Footpath 13

Beachamwell Parish Council has been pushing  during the past year to get this matter resolved but the disappointing truth is that nothing much has happened on the ground. Re-organisation of departments at Norfolk County Council earlier this year probably hasn’t helped but recently more positive messages have been coming back from the Countryside Access department and so we live in hope of an eventual resolution.

If you know if any problems or issues with PRoWs in Beachamwell – or have any other comments – please use the ‘Leave a reply’ link on this page or send a message via the Contact page. Thanks.

 

 

WildWalks

One of the pleasures of walking in the countryside is the opportunity to see a range of wildlife – maybe mad March hares, a drift of Viper’s bugloss in high summer or a flurry of fieldfares in late autumn. Here in Breckland we are fortunate to have a wide range of flora and fauna, including some of the rarest in the UK – indeed one plant, prostrate perennial knawel, is found nowhere else in the world.
Prostrate perennial knawel - unique to Breckland

Prostrate perennial knawel – unique to Breckland

WildWalks, a new website launched by The Wildlife Trusts in partnership with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), is hoping to encourage us to record the animals and plants we come across when out walking. You can either follow one of the WildWalks already set up on the website, or create your own, and so help The Wildlife Trusts to build up a picture of how efforts to restore nature are affecting local wildlife. If you repeat the walk, and keep noting what you see, you will help track how wildlife changes and responds to conservation management over time.

This idea is part of The Living Landscapes initiative – a recovery plan for nature championed by The Wildlife Trusts since 2006. Recognising that we need to move beyond a relatively few isolated protected sites – small oases of wildlife-rich protected land, such as nature reserves – surrounded by an otherwise inhospitable landscape for many plants and animals, Living Landscapes aims for a more large scale and long-term approach to nature conservation. There are 150 Living Landscape schemes around the UK, and in each individual Wildlife Trusts  are working with partners, landowners and local communities to restore the natural landscape. For more information about Living Landscapes click here.

WildWalks are linked to Living Landscapes and play their part in monitoring the progress of the scheme. Beachamwell falls into two Living Landscape areas: The Brecks in the eastern half of our parish, and Wissey to the south-west. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never recorded any wildlife before, WildWalks is designed to allow recorders of all abilities to monitor the plants and animals which you feel comfortable with; the wider the range of species monitored, the better for assessing the impact of the conservation work.

More information on WildWalks from the Wildlife Trusts is available here

WildWalks leaflet
Click image to enlarge

Survey of the Beachamwell PROW network

In the past few days I have walked or cycled the complete network of 20 miles of public footpaths and bridleways in Beachamwell. It is pleasing to note that generally the network is in pretty good condition. Access, path surfaces and signage are satisfactory for most routes. There are two cases of obstruction (BR1 and FP13) and a couple of cross-field paths not restored after cultivation.

BR2 looking north

BR2 north of The Lodge. Easy walking along this broad track.

SOME OUTSTANDING ISSUES
(View a map with route numbers HERE)

BR1 (Searchlight Drove)
At the N end walkers are faced with a ‘Beware of the Bull sign’. The exit from BR1 on to the A1122 is blocked with barbed wire

BR2
There is a locked bar across this bridleway at its junction with the A1122. Walkers and cyclists could pass, but not horse riders.

FP10
The footpath through the woodland belt is not marked. Low growing branches and fallen branches obstruct the route, but it is possible to find an alternative way round.

FP10 obstructed by fallen branches

FP10 obstructed by fallen branches

Although the cross-field sections of FP10 have now been marked, the surface has not been restored with the consequence that walking in the soft and wet earth is difficult.

FP12
At the southern end the path has not been restored following cultivation. At its northern end the footpath doesn’t follow the correct route. It should cross the asparagus field to end in the corner by the old school.

FP13
The long-standing obstruction of FP13 at Hall Barn remains the one major problem of access in the network. The Parish Council has been pressing Norfolk County Council to resolve this matter but no progress has been made so far.

FP21
Following the recent removal of pigs this field has been ploughed and a section of FP21 not yet made good.

BR19a near Furze Hill. Accessible now but at risk of obstruction by plant growth in the summer

BR19a near Furze Hill. Accessible now but at risk of obstruction by plant growth in the summer

SIGNAGE

Provision of fingerposts and waymarks is not bad, but there is scope for improvement. In a few place it would be helpful to have new posts for way marks.  As previously noted in this blog there are four places in the Beachamwell network where a path meets a metalled road but the required sign is missing. The local highway authority has now promised to install these fingerposts.

In November 2016 a ‘Public Bridleway’ fingerpost appeared in Drymere (next to the BR3 route to Warren Farm) at a point where in fact there is no right of way . No one seems to know who was responsible, but again Norfolk County Council Highways are panning to remove it in the near future.

2026: only ten years to go

Norfolk County Council, like all similar councils, is required to draw up and maintain a ‘definitive map and statement’ of the rights of way in its area. The record of a path on the definitive map is conclusive evidence that public rights exist over it.

At present paths can be added to the definitive map if the relevant evidence is produced. However in 2026 this possibility comes to an end. Any path which came into existence before 1949 and that has not been requested to be on the map by 1 January 2026 will be lost – forever! As one estimate suggests that there could be as many as 20,000 public rights of way missing from the definitive map this is an alarming prospect.

An old path

Is this path on the definitive map? If not, do old records show it open to the public?        ©Alan Heardman

2026 probably seems a long way off, but the work involved in the careful checking of historic records and maps is inevitably time consuming. Collecting the necessary evidence and putting together a claim also takes time. In addition it is important that researchers co-ordinate their efforts so as to avoid duplication and also to ensure complete coverage in an area if possible. For this reason several organisation keen to promote access to the countryside are encouraging local people to work together and make sure that historic rights of way are not lost.

The British Horse Society has been in the forefront of raising awareness of this issue and also providing information and advice on how to find and restore ‘lost’ paths to the definitive map. Although they focus on bridleways, the research and processes involved for footpaths are just the same. Two of their members have published Rights of Way: Restoring the Record. Rights of Way: Restoring the RecordThis is an excellent guide to finding and using the relevant maps and documents, and preparing an application to have a path added to the definitive map. (This book is actually  an incredibly useful tool for any local historian; it gives very clear information on where to find and how to use a wide range of archive material that would be of use for many research projects.) Unfortunately it is currently out of print with a new edition expected at the end of 2016. However, it can be borrowed from Norfolk Libraries, and also Beachamwell Local History Group holds a copy which could be borrowed by local residents.

In Norfolk, the British Horse Society is working with the Open Spaces Society and The Ramblers, each committing funding to undertake research in a systematic and co‑ordinated way. Initially, the funding is being used to get copies of records held at The National Archives in Kew and make them available to all doing this work locally.

What this work also needs is volunteers willing to review the records in a systematic fashion so that we capture every route in Norfolk which is a public right of way but not yet recorded as one. Some of the funding from The Ramblers is being used to hold practical workshops for anyone (not just members of The Ramblers) willing to spend some time on this, to show them just how it can be done. The workshops will be led by Helen Chester of BHS and will include:

  • the evidence available on line, how to collect it and what it shows, through a live application.
  • other types of evidence available at the records office with examples of what to look for
  • standard recording templates with a worked example on how to use them.

If you are interested in attending workshops or getting involved in this work, please contact Ken Hawkins of The Ramblers and CPRE Norfolk.

Tips on saving lost paths (as suggested by the Ramblers)
Talk to local people, especially older residents, about where they walk now and have done in the past
Be methodical – start with individual parishes and check all walked routes, or take one OS map square at a time
Study old maps (such as OS first editions) and compare them with what’s on the ground and map now
Mark anomalies on the map and list all unrecorded or under recorded routes
Check for gaps and inconsistencies in the network, such as dead end or disconnected routes
Do your historical research – look at tithe maps, Inclosure awards, Inland Revenue valuation maps and other evidence
Organise yourselves by forming a group with a range of different skills and share your experiences with others

Links to further information:

Definitive map and statement for Norfolk

British Horse Society online toolkit for claiming missing paths

Ramblers Don’t Lose Your Way

Open Spaces Society Find Our Way

Rights of Way: Restoring the Record

Beachamwell Local History Group

Signs at junctions with metalled roads

Highway authorities (in Beachamwell’s case Norfolk County Council) have a duty to erect and maintain signposts wherever a footpath, bridleway or byway leaves a surfaced road. (Oddly there doesn’t seem to be any requirement for a signpost at the junction of one metalled road with another.) In Beachamwell there are 25 points where paths etc meet the road. This seems quite a large number, but Beachamwell is a big parish and has some 20 miles of public rights of way. I have recently surveyed all of these junctions to check the presence of the required fingerposts. Four are missing, and this Google map shows their locations:

Even where the necessary signposts are in place there may still be problems. For example the fingerpost at the southern end of Bridleway 11 (opposite the junction of the Cockley Cley road with the Beachamwell to Swaffham road) is set several metres back from the road and is becoming obscured by vegetation. Certainly a traveller on the road would be unaware that there was a public right of way joining the road at this point:

The fingerpost to BR11 to the right is set back from the road and obscured from view

The fingerpost to BR11 to the right is set back from the road and obscured from view in the trees

Similarly the fingerpost pointing to Footpath 7 at Greenway Corner is being swallowed up by the growth of the laurel hedge:

The sign to footpath 7 is gradually disappearing

The sign to FP7 is gradually disappearing

Information about the four missing fingerposts has now been forwarded to NCC Highways department, and so replacements should be installed in due course.