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LONGER READ: Project launched to create heritage nature walk around Parish Fields in Diss

Parish Fields in Diss Picture by Mark Bullimore Photography
Parish Fields in Diss Picture by Mark Bullimore Photography

A new project has been launched which aims to create a heritage nature walk around Parish Fields in Diss

The project has been launched by the Parish Fields Friends Group, which wants to create the walk around the meadows as a part of a living history community project.

The walk, or boundary belt as it is known, was an avenue of trees that encircled Parish Fields and was donated to the town by the Taylor family in the 1980s.

The Taylor family also built the Corn Hall, recently the subject of £3.2 million project to to restore it as a heritage asset.

In Victorian times, the family could take a Sunday stroll around the boundary belt to see the local livestock grazing in the meadows.

In the late 18th century and early 19th century, though, the parkland became neglected and lost in the memory of townsfolk.

The friends now want to reignite interest in the history of the boundary belt with tree planting, creating a wild flower walk and information boards.

Parish fields boundary belt. Ordnance survey map 1886
Parish fields boundary belt. Ordnance survey map 1886

The project has won early support from South Norfolk Council, which owns the south side of area, and alsoDiss Town Council, which owns the remainder.

“The boundary belt still offers public access and delightful views of the meadows but few people know of this,” said Parish Fields Friends member David Whatley.

“Many of the trees represent the original avenue and mark the route Victorian walkers would have taken to the see the lawn, but present day risk assessments have led to a number of old or diseased trees being removed.

“Lack of knowledge of the belt’s significance as a historic green path means the right level of care and attention has not been taken to preserve its heritage value.

“We hope that, with education and shared activities, we can raise awareness of the boundary belt, so it is valued once again as an important part of Diss’ green heritage.”

Parish Fields Friends Group, which now has around 140 members, was originally set up in opposition to plans to build 24 bungalows on the historic site, owned by the Gaze family.

Mr Whatley told town councillors that the project was not an attempt to stop the development but a positive idea that had grown out of further research into the meadows and its surroundings.

It would not encroach on private land and the development could still go ahead.

Tim-Holt Wilsonm, founder of the Parish Fields Friends Group
Tim-Holt Wilsonm, founder of the Parish Fields Friends Group

“We want to create the green promenade around the south and west sides of the Parish Fields meadows, allowing vantage point views of the local livestock and wildlife,” he said.

“This would involve restoring some of the original trees, adding news ones and providing fresh, informed care for those that still exist.

“This would hopefully reinstate the path taken by the Taylor family for their Sunday tours, but open it up to the wider public.

“We hope to provide new benches and interpretation and information boards to explain the history of this little corner of Diss, plant honeysuckle to attract nocturnal insects and then bats.”

“We also hope to turn the ghost pond into a stumpery for damp-loving plants and newts.”

Parish Fields

Parish Fields has been a meadow since at least the 1640s.

It was known as Parish Close in the 18th century and, by the 1830s, it had become a park associated with The Cedars, a grand house in Mount Street.

It is listed by Norfolk County Council as a historic environment and the only example of a detached landscape park within a town in Norfolk.

Today, it is a mosaic of meadow, veteran trees and brambly patches, all part of a wildlife network linked with local gardens and providing – as ever – seasonal grazing for livestock.

Like Fair Green, Rectory Meadows and many back gardens in Diss, it is listed in the South Norfolk local plan as one of the precious ‘important local open spaces’.

Examination of some of the tree stumps surrounding the meadow date to the year Queen Victoria took to the throne.

The friends group say that they can also contribute to the walk by providing homes for bees and woodpeckers.

The project would involve re-establishing the avenue as a linked pathway, restoring some of the ageing trees, while planting a mix of new yew, box and holly trees.

They also hope to develop a wildflower walk along the path between Mount Street and Shelfanger Road and hope the project will bring together local people, businesses and organisations, as well as schools.

The friends need the go-ahead from the district and town council.

This article appeared in the Diss Express, June 14 edition

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