Looking after our countryside with the Norwich Fringe Project

A cow on a grazing meadow managed by the Norwich Fringe Project

A cow at Marston Marshes, near Norwich, which is one of the sites managed by the Norwich Fringe Project - Credit: Robert Stubbs

The Norwich Fringe Project celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Matt Davies runs the organisation which looks after vital countryside areas on the edge of the city and tells us more

What is the Norwich Fringe Project?

It maintains and enhances council-owned countryside around Norwich for biodiversity and recreation, working with volunteers, community groups, farmers and contractors and funded by Norwich City Council and Broadland and South Norfolk district councils. 

Matt Davies, project officer for Norwich Fringe Project

Matt Davies, project officer for Norwich Fringe Project - Credit: Robert Stubbs

Where are some of its main sites?  

It looks after Norwich City Council’s 55 natural areas including Marston Marshes, Danby Wood, Eaton Common, Cringleford Meadow, Earlham and Bowthorpe Marshes, Hellesdon Meadow, Mile Cross Marshes, Lion Wood, Ketts Heights and Old Library Wood. Areas it manages in South Norfolk and Broadland include Swardeston Common and Rackheath Woodland Tree belts. 

How many people are involved?  

I oversee the project and have a part-time assistant. Volunteers are such an important part of the what we do and bring such a diverse range of skills and enthusiasm with them. They are the real heroes of the project. They come from all walks of life, from students to the retired, plus working people and those considering a change of career. We provide training, equipment, a purpose, sense of belonging and chance to give something back, plus a place to meet people and make new friends. I see a real positive change in volunteers who have stress or anxiety related illnesses. You see at first-hand how working in the countryside doing practical conservation and countryside management work rejuvenates people’s spirits and their soul. It’s so rewarding to see. There are also six Friends groups. 

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How did you get involved?  

When I was 15 I spent the summer volunteering with the British Trust for Conservation, now The Conservation Volunteers. Combined with meeting a countryside manager and doing Duke of Edinburgh Awards it gave me a passion for the outdoors. After school I worked in catering for four years but missed the great outdoors so went back to college and did a countryside management course. I had an amazing work placement with the Broads Authority and a few jobs later returned to Norwich in 1998 and here I am helping to manage the Norwich countryside. 

Wildflowers in a meadow managed by Norwich Fringe Project

Wildflowers in a meadow at Marston Marshes, near Norwich - Credit: Robert Stubbs

Do you have a favourite Fringe Project area?  

All the sites are special, and important to me as I have looked after them for so long. I love all aspects of the job even the paperwork. I suppose what I like most is bringing sites back into active management and seeing the positive change for wildlife and people, and increasing biodiversity. I would say that Marston Marshes and Swardeston Common are good examples of how sites have improved for wildflowers, and Old Library Wood and Ketts Heights, are just two examples of how a site can be turned around and improved when the community becomes actively involved.     I feel I am really blessed to have a job I love doing. I love the different seasons. During the spring, summer and autumn we focus on the grassland work with local farmers and graziers, grazing cattle and horses on the meadows and marshlands, repairing paths and fences. In autumn and winter we get back into the woodlands, working with the volunteers coppicing and thinning and planting new trees too. 

Are you looking for more volunteers?  

We are always looking for volunteers keen to get involved, who like being outside, meeting people and getting stuck in. Find out more at norwichfringeproject.wordpress.com