In May 1994 the Parish Meeting agreed to fund work on the Common to begin to stop the whole area becoming overgrown.
December 1994 – local volunteers using hand tools scraped an area of bracken down to the mineral soil to remove the organic build-up. It was then reseeded with heather seed gathered from Roydon Common in Norfolk. The work was planned and overseen by Julia Masson, Project Officer for the Wensum Valley Project (WVP). WVP obtained match funding for the project as well as the necessary permissions for clearing trees. An informal committee consisting of Eilean Macgibbon, David Knight and Dick Malt organised the local volunteers.
In 1995 the scraped area was maintained by local volunteers and with help from the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), paid for from the money from the parish. Five working days were held in spring and autumn/winter.
A fundraising evening was held at Angel Farmhouse in January 1996 at which a film made locally was shown (Leaving Lily, directed by Graham Baker who had owned the Angel in the 1970s and early ’80s). £285 was raised.
Also that year work began felling birch trees self-sown in the central area which was to be cleared. Breckland District Council (BDC) awarded £2150 to the project via its Parish Innovation Fund. Further working days were held in 1996 and 1997, again with assistance from BTCV. Logs were hauled off the Common using heavy horses in the traditional way – Shires brought by Joe Godderidge and Suffolk Punches from Gressenhall Museum under the charge of Richard Dalton.
David Knight undertook a strimmer course in 1997 and the Hoe Walk leaflet was published, mapping a four-mile circular walk starting at the Museum, crossing Hoe Rough and the Common before returning via Mill Lane. The leaflet was reprinted several times until it was replaced by Norfolk County Council’s (NCC) Heritage Walks around Dereham booklet in 2009.
In 1998 and 1999 two larger areas were scraped using a JCB so that heather would be able to regrow. Coppicing the tree stumps and clearing brambles and gorse were the main activities on the work days. Further funds were raised from WVP, BDC and NCC.
David Knight continued to manage the work through the 2000s and occasional work days were held, until it became clear that more substantial funding would be needed to continue the work in the absence of a sufficient number of local volunteers. The aim would have to be to achieve a more lasting condition, based on occasional grazing, to maintain the heather areas.
A new management plan was drawn up with the help of Neil Chadwick of the Hawk & Owl Trust, Sculthorpe Moor (HOT), and Helen Baczkowska of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT). This formed the basis of an application to Natural England for the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement which was obtained in 2013 and provides a ten-year funding programme. An annual payment for maintenance is supplemented by capital grants for further clearance and for fencing to provide for animal grazing.
The WWI/II trenches were surveyed by Kelly Powell of NCC’s Historic Environment Service as part of the HLS agreement and placed on the Historic Environment Record. More information can be found at Norfolk Heritage Explorer site.
Following a training course which three volunteers undertook, Austrian scythes have been bought which are particularly useful for cutting bracken in the trenches where machines are inappropriate.
Further areas of bracken have been scraped by machine. Stock fencing was put up in 2015 to permit grazing.
In 2014-5, two information panels were produced with National Lottery grant funding through HOT to explain the current conservation work as well as illustrating historical and natural points of interest.
Breckland District Council funded an information leaflet and leaflet holders to accompany the boards. In 2020 Norfolk Wildlife Trust funded a revised version, now available at the boards on the Common. Download a pdf of the leaflet here: hoe_common_leaflet
In summer 2015 the Common featured an article in Natural World, the magazine of The Wildlife Trusts. Written by Patrick Barkham, it briefly describes the work of the wildlife trusts with special reference to Norfolk, and the work at Hoe Common in particular. Download the article here: natural_world
Rolling the bracken regularly with a heavy roller has greatly helped reduce its vigour and keep it under control. We are very lucky to have Jeff Shea and his Suffolk Punch, Alex, to do this work.
Norfolk Horn sheep are a very old breed which is particularly adapted to coarse grazing. The breed almost died out as more profitable breeds replaced it but was brought back from extinction in the 1970s.
The sheep are often used for conservation grazing, as on the Common, where they will also browse birch saplings. We hope to have more sheep if they thrive and help manage the Common.
Maintaining the boundaries of the Common is a winter job. The old hedges of hawthorn and crab apple are being carefully pruned to revitalise the trees. Instead of burning the brash it is being piled up between rows of stakes to form ‘dead hedges’. These provide valuable shelter for wildlife.