How It All Began
Blakeney is blessed with a miriad of natural springs, fed by the aquifer underlying the chalk bed upon which the village stands. Before the days of mains water supply, many cottages took advantage of this and sunk wells for their household use. Most of these have now been filled in or capped for safety reasons. Spring water always flows downhill to find the lowest point, and in Blakeney, this is the sea. At low tide, some of these springs can be seen emptying into the harbour, along the length of the concrete quay. Other springs empty into what is now the Conservation Duck Pond. Three such underwater springs feed the pond, making it an ideal habitat for many creatures and plants, etc. A constant supply of pure fresh water was also very useful for slaking the thirst of the many horses used widely throughout the agricultural and fishing industries during the 19th and early 20th centuries. In those days, the pond was known as “The Ol’ Hoss Pool”!
As horses were replaced by tractors and other machinery, the need for a watering hole for horses declined and the pool fell into disuse. It would seem that the area gradually deteriorated and became somewhat of an eyesore, with all sorts of rubbish and rubble being tipped there.
In 1977, to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, Blakeney & District Wildfowlers Association (B&DWA) took the decision to clear the site and create a conservation duck pond. Member work parties were organised and the facility soon took shape. Captive waterfowl were introduced and the long evolution of what you see today was under way. A catalogue of improvements and enlargements took place over the coming years and the facility grew to include the captive breeding programme, so important to its success and viability. All went well for the next 26 years or so with Colin ‘Cobo’ Cobon (Master of the Duck Pond) lovingly tending the hugely popular facility, almost single handedly. Then, literally overnight, everything changed……for the worse………………!
The Tidal Surge
December 5th 2013 was a fateful day for the Conservation Duck Pond as storms of biblical proportions battered the north Norfolk coastline. An unlikely and devastating series of events conspired to create a meteorological and tidal phenomenon not witnessed since 1953. This was caused by a catalogue of perfectly timed events coming together to create the ‘wall of water’ known as a tidal surge.
- The morning tide was ‘held back’ by very strong offshore winds.
- Winds began gusting to 140 mph and swung round to the North West.
- An area of extremely low pressure developed in the North Sea, creating a storm surge.
- One of the highest spring high tides of the year was expected.
Any one of these events is unusual but having all four coming together, in perfect harmony, was unprecedented since 1953! Mother Nature unleashed her full power and the consequences changed the lives of tens of thousands of people, in minutes! High tide arrived carrying over 2 metres of water more than would have been due in normal circumstances. The sea defences failed and the protective bank was breached in about 30 different places between Blakeney and Cley. The fresh marsh was no longer fresh and the duck pond sat under 4 feet of sea water! The force of water demolished much of the fence enclosing the duck pond. Ducks were pinned against the fence and drowned, whilst others were swept away, never to be seen again. Sea water covered the fresh marsh for over 5 weeks as the sluice gates designed to evacuate such flooding could not be opened! For a long time, the water was too deep to allow the remaining ducks to be caught up and taken to safety, so some were lost to dehydration (they had no fresh water to drink). Eventually, the remaining stock was captured and re-homed with waterfowl collector nearby. The entire facility was in tatters, the waterfowl were gone and no-one rally knew what to do or where to turn. A very, very sad episode in the colourful life of the duck pond. ‘Cobo’ was reduced to tears, with all his hard work raised to the ground and his beloved waterfowl collection decimated. “Pictures tell a thousand stories” and the following photographs graphically illustrate the aftermath of this cataclysmic event.
After the Tidal Surge
A period of reflection followed with everyone trying to see a way forward. ‘Cobo’, then in his 81st year, sadly decided it was time to step down. Hardly surprising after the destruction of a lifetime’s work!
In deference to the landowner and the general appearance of the locality, the meadow to the north of the enclosure was cleared of flotsam, jetsam and a whole host of other rubbish and detritus left behind after the sea water finally receded. A JCB was hired for a couple of days and the site was cleared. What little remains will be burned when conditions are right.
It was at about this time that B&DWA learned that they had been awarded an extremely generous grant from Blakeney parish council, in recognition of the huge loss they had suffered. Much of this was swallowed up by the expense of clearing the meadow but what remained prompted B&DWA to consider ways in which the facility might be restored or, perhaps, discontinued altogether. However, such was the depth of feeling amongst the local community and visitors alike, that any thoughts of ‘quitting’ were soon quashed. A (cunning!) plan was hatched which, with a lot of hard work and community involvement, could see the facility slowly evolve into something not dissimilar to what so many had enjoyed for so long. B&DWA agreed the plan and the budget proposal which supported it and those involved got cracking!
Click Here to learn about what happened next……………!