"In the autumn stillness, I didn’t immediately notice the large brown bird flying low over a golden-brown expanse of reeds at Hickling Broad, Norfolk. It was a bittern, a famously elusive creature that became extinct in Britain as a breeding bird 150 years ago.
The bittern is thriving again, after beginning its comeback in 1911 at Hickling, the largest of the lakes created by medieval peat-diggers, which now form our wildest lowland landscape. Today, Hickling Broad is a wetland of international importance, home to endangered species such as the marsh harrier (rarer than the burgeoning golden eagle), the swallowtail butterfly (only found on the Broads) and the holly-leaved naiad (an aquatic plant so rare that botanists make pilgrimages to admire it).
Hickling is probably one of the 10 most important nature reserves in the land, so it was a shock last month when half was put up for sale. People feared a developer would ruin it with a new “ecotourism” marina; but luckily an offer by its current tenants, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, has been accepted. This small charity has launched an urgent appeal to raise £1m to complete its purchase.
It is no coincidence that, alongside the bittern, the common crane also first returned to Britain near Hickling. This large and lovely bird began breeding again on adjacent marshes tended by a local farmer and self-confessed “craniac”, John Buxton; this year a record 48 pairs bred across the country.
These revivals show that reserves such as Hickling are not simply fragments where we witness the death throes of endangered species: they are creative places of recovery, where the natural dynamism of wild things enjoys free and glorious expression."