An oasis of tranquility

Duffles Pond, WintertonAS I write a Peregrine Falcon is resting on the church tower and a moorhen is building its nest on the platform in the pond. By the time I finish I wonder if the Falcon will still be there and the moorhen will be playing with her chicks?

The history of the wildlife pond area is as rich in stories as it is in its biodiversity. Years ago it was overgrown and chickens strutted around. Sheep visited from the field in Low Road. It isn’t clear how long the pond has existed but we know its depth is influenced by the weather and upkeeping. This is an account as remembered by those kind people who have been able to chat to me behind their masks during Covid. 

From after the war the wildlife area can best be described as a tip, full of tyres, bicycles, bottles and junk. There was so much in the water it was possible to walk on it!

The original caretaker was a coal merchant called Mr Hovell who kept a pig in the middle of the area known as The Hut. He also kept chickens in the allotments and they frequently wandered in. Henry Dyble took over some years later when it was still full of rubbish. He decided to clean it up and find out about its history and name.

He enlisted the help of archaeologist Edwin Rose who discovered the site was marked on an old OS map as a moat. In his 1989 report he highlighted the flint and brick walling with the flint pebbles designed in a rough herringbone pattern. When the water is low it is still possible to see some of it.

In 1843 the pond was referred to as “a pit and osier bed”. An osier is a type of willow often grown on boggy farmland. Excavations uncovered the remains of a sluice gate and other features associated with the activity.

As the “moat” was dug out Mr Rose investigated the rubbish at the bottom, including early 20th Century bottles, iron and cow skulls with the top end sawn off, suggesting horn stealing. When it was drained the bricks and flintwork revealed were consistent with 18th/19th Century work. He concluded “The structures are presumably to do with regulating the water level in the osier bed…but it is quite possible that a moat has been utilised for this purpose.” 

He seemed keen to conclude it had been a moat but as far as I know it has been Duffles Pond to all the people who have lived and still live in Winterton. Still no-one knows why. There is now a seat in the wildlife area with a plaque commemorating Henry and his love of the pond. He died without discovering the origin of the name Duffles.

Many people have mentioned the variety of ducks that used to swim on Duffles Pond, from mallards to mandarins and grebes to gadwalls. The platform was built about nine years ago and provides a very good viewing point for humans as well as a spot for dozing ducks.

From newspapers and parish newsletters it is clear how over the years individuals and groups have played an important part in the pond’s upkeep. In 2008, when Winterton won best kept village in the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston in Bloom Awards, the Mercury reported: “The 901 Troop Marine Cadets are also willing helpers when the going gets tough and this year helped tidy up Duffles Pond and dug up overpowering reeds.”

Two years later in the March newsletter the work of cutting walkways at the pond was highlighted. And in summer 2019 it described how allotment holder Peter Barnes and friends with a shared passion for wildlife developed and cared for the pond. It became a special place for Peter, who set up cameras to monitor birds, bats and other animals as well as rescuing hedgehogs. 

Peter, with Russell Guyton and Tony Nicholls would sit at the biscuit tables and watch the wildlife. When Peter died they dedicated an area to him - you can see the plaque in his memory on the right of the area nearer the allotments.

No-one remembers the pond being as deep as it is now, with water spilling over onto the pathway that encircles it. Apart from a couple of years ago when a few goldfish magically appeared it has never had fish. The disappearance of the goldfish coincided with a daily visit from a kingfisher. 

The regular ducks at the moment are two pairs of mallards and a pair of moorhens, with another moorhen frequenting the field in Low Road opposite the pond. Some years there have been twenty or more ducklings. 

In February, Tony, Russell and Maynard Watson with a couple of other nature lovers planted shrubs including hawthorn and blackthorn just outside the fence on Low Road. This was necessary because a week or so earlier a very enthusiastic Norfolk Trails Officer decided it needed tidying up and cut back many shrubs along Low Road including those overhanging from the wildlife area. 

Unfortunately, these were where the speckled wood butterfly lays its pupa. Speckled woods are unique among British butterflies as some hibernate as caterpillars and other as pupa. Hopefully there is pupa elsewhere so we will be able to enjoy these and other spectacular butterflies during the summer.We have seen the whole range of finches including a pair of bullfinches, a welcome sighting after many void years. Chiffchaffs have been seen nearby and it won’t be long before many more migrant birds fill the area with their joyful song. An unusual visitor, a white-tailed sea eagle, flew over on March 25, mobbed by a buzzard. This was a very exciting addition. 

Spring arrived with many daffodils providing spectacular colour, and pink and white primroses surrounded the pond. Russell and Tony have planted many wildflower seeds and hopefully in the summer the area will be full of nigella, cornflowers and other beautiful plants.

Special thanks to Mervyn Goffin, Russell Guyton and Tony Nicholls for providing me with information.

By Rebecca Durant