Thompson Water, constructed as a fishing lake in the middle of the 19th century by the local lord, is lost in woodland near the ancient Peddars Way. Soon after dawn, twists of mist drift up and across the flat water; mute swans upend to feed, ducks quack and dabble and little grebes dive. Calls from a family of hobbies ring out from the dead alders on the far side and single birds occasionally pick off dragonflies low over the lake.
The dense, green spikes of water-soldier Stratiotes aloides choke the lake surface, having suddenly spread in recent decades, apparently, responding to an increase in nutrients from fertiliser running off the surrounding arable land. A patch has been cleared in the centre of the lake by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, apparently as a test prior to a larger removal operation, and this is where the waterbirds gather.
The path runs along the edge of Thompson Water and a small hide gives views of hunting hobbies, marsh harriers, a kingfisher and the birds on the water. An assortment of almost empty bird feeders attract marsh, blue and great tits, a great spotted woodpecker and nuthatch.
The path continues through the woodland next to a long, straight ditch and then out into rough grassland; here, there is a dew-drenched route that passes between a string of pingos, post-glacial depressions caused by residual lumps of melted ice perhaps no more than 10,000 years old; these plant and invertebrate rich waterbodies are dotted through a narrow strip of land to the south of the small village of Thompson, preserved from the plough by being within the village’s common land.
Northern Europe was a blank slate as the ice retreated and has been recolonised by plants and animals from refugia in Central Europe and the Mediterranean; Britain on the north western edge of Europe is thus relatively impoverished in most taxa, for example butterflies and dragonflies because only a proportion of species have made the long journey. Perhaps the destruction of semi-natural habitats from the agricultural changes of the past 50 years is something akin to the unstoppable advance of an express glacier? If so, then restoration ecology has some great opportunities over the next century or so.