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The Coming of the Bypass for the Villages of Dersingham, Ingoldisthorpe and Snettisham

'The Song of the Moth'
Elizabeth Fiddick ©

All of the documents, letters, newspaper cuttings and maps available to us for this piece are included in this 72 page document (16MB) - Dersingham Bypass Records - for you to download and enjoy. Some of the documents make reference to other material but if it isn't in here then we do not have it.

It is such a little fellow, this moth, just 12mm long with a wingspan of 18-24 mm. about the size of a thumbnail.  With its light brown colouring you would probably hardly notice it even if it was resting on the Bog Myrtle its staple diet. Yet it has an impressive name which occupies more space than it does, Choristoneura lafauryans. In the 1980s this tiny creature with the long name became notorious, provoking furious debate, angry letters and newspaper articles nationally and especially here in Dersingham. It became the villain of the piece during the arguments put forward to prevent or at best drastically change the construction of the bypass around the three villages of Dersingham, Ingoldisthorpe and Snettisham.

Anyone in the village now who was here during the 70s and 80s will remember the problems caused by the massive and continuing increase in road traffic as has just been outlined. On most days, and most especially on a fine Sunday in the holiday period, there was an ever  continuous line of cars, motor cycles, lorries, caravans and coaches passing through the three villages. It was sometimes reduced to a slow crawl but there were many times when the 30mph limit was just a dream. It became an act of bravery and daring to attempt to cross from Chapel Road over to the paper shop or Thaxters. If you had parked your car or bike outside the shops the attempt to rejoin the line of traffic was only managed with extreme care and there were several accidents. I well remember walking down to fetch my Sunday paper and the time to cross the road taking longer than the rest of the journey to and from my house. Another memory I have is of a severe winter when the heavy fall of snow closed the main road in both directions. I walked down to see how bad it was and if I would be able to get into work; it was the silence I remember. The constant noise of traffic had become so familiar that I no longer noticed it but its absence that morning was just wonderful. The installation of the traffic lights at the cross roads did help to relieve the problem.

As stated earlier the possibility of building a bypass had been first suggested about 1930 and was regularly raised in the following years.  But the governments of the day always seem to have far more urgent priorities so that the money needed could not be allocated just at that time but, we were assured, would be considered again in the very near future.

So you can imagine the delight when in 1982 the proposal was raised again and preliminary plans were published.   Consultations were set in motion and everyone was invited to study the proposals and put in writing any objections.  This opened the floodgates of course and letters poured in.

So step forward little Choristoneura lafauryana  your time in the spotlight has come.The area where the bypass would be built was across all the land on the left as you enter the village from Lynn. Where the roundabout is now, during the last century you could turn left into a very pleasant picnic site as many visitors to the area did. They would at one time have been able to buy a tray of tea and sandwiches from the lady who occupied the cottage next to it which still stands today. The land all about this site was known on the old maps as Cranberry Fen. It was used as pasture and it was common practice in the past, at the right time of year, for the villagers to gather the cranberries that grew there in profusion. Here there was also a working sand quarry and the cottage mentioned was known as Quarry Cottage. The late Mr. Stanley Lines told me than when he was a lad he and his friends used to play in the tunnels that ran from the quarry under the main road and into Sandringham woods.

Beyond that fen were the marshes that stretched to the waters of the Wash. Nearer the village you would pass Badger Fen and the land granted to the village under the enclosure acts. Whilst on your right was the heathland we know as the Open and Shut-up Commons.

The bypass today, cuts through the area now designated Dersingham Bog, the larger site administered by Natural England and the smaller Dersingham Fen owned by the village and administered by Dersingham United Charities.

When the plan to build a bypass was published three different routes, Blue, Red or Green were suggested at the Dersingham start whilst five were possible at the Snettisham end. A questionnaire was sent out in May 1982 asking among other things for recipients to indicate which route they favoured.  Other comments were then invited.

Objections flooded into the Council offices from Nature Conservancy Council, R.S.P.B., Norfolk Naturalist’s Trust,  Norfolk and Norwich  Naturalists’ Society,  Heacham and West Norfolk Natural History Society, Norwich Green Party, Broadland Friends of the Earth, University of East Anglia Students’ Union Friends of the Earth, Norfolk Moth Survey, and several  private individuals. I will quote from much of this correspondence:

It was stated that Dersingham Bog was a nationally important conservation site representing the best and most extensive example of an acidic valley mire in East Anglia. It was a vital refuge for rare wild life and was the only site of its kind in Eastern Britain.  In fact, acid bogs were becoming increasingly rare. As a result Dersingham Bog was listed in the Nature Conservation Review as a Grade 2 site of National importance and the heathland site was also rated Grade 2 for its heathland interest. The bog, including our fen, was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, (SSS) under Section 28 of the Wildlife Countryside Act 1981.

All the groups drew attention to the numerous rare species that could be found there; the Common Cotton grass, round leaved Sundew, Bog Asphodel, Cranberry, and many unusual mosses. Some of the mosses were extremely rare being confined to just a few sites in South England and Yorkshire. In fact, Dersingham Bog was the only mire site to support one particularly rare bog pool community,( Sphagnum cuspidatum).

These rare and unusual plant communities supported a rich variety of insects and other rare species. The first to be listed was our 'friend', the micro moth Choristoneura lafauryana. Dersingham Bog was cited as the only known UK locality to support this moth which fed on the Bog Myrtle. Many groups drew attention to the large number of other rare insects that could be found here. The Black Darter Dragonfly was only known in East Anglia at this site. The bogs here supported the marsh grasshopper thought to be extinct now in its former haunt of Broadland  and the presence of the rare peat bog beetle (Hydroporous morio!) was considered most unusual. The list of these creatures is long indeed and I can’t help noticing the smaller the creature the longer and more impressive is its name.

The groups wrote that because of the plant communities that flourish here and support creatures found elsewhere only in North Wales, North West England and Scotland as well as Southern species of plants and insects the site is unique in Britain and possibly in Europe.

The R.S.P.B. drew attention to the breeding night jars and I quite recently was guided around the Bog one late evening to have the great pleasure of hearing and seeing these amazing birds. They also drew attention to a large population of breeding Shelduck. Dick Melton remembers the Shelduck that once nested on our commons and fen.  He recalls that they made their nests in old rabbit burrows and would fly straight into their burrow without leaving foot prints to alert predators to the site. When the young Shelduck were about a month old the hen duck would take them from the burrow and walk them down to the sea.  I would love to have seen that.

There were also many overwintering birds of prey including a hen harrier roost.

Many of the individuals who wrote made the point that too many areas of wetland had been destroyed and that SSSIs were created to preserve the remaining fragments.

It was feared the road would cut through the site separating off the main body with a 10m. wide sterile gap leading to loss, damage and change. By this time the options for the start of the bypass had narrowed down to just two. The roundabout could be built on the old picnic site or at the junction of the Main Road and Heath Road. All the groups mentioned favoured the second option as the road would then affect only the fringe of the site.

The council decided that the first option having  the roundabout at the picnic site was the best. Starting the road from the Heath Road junction would mean the crossing of common land, our heaths. Any common land taken would have to be replaced by other land which is what had happened during all the past enclosures when land was set aside for the villagers as compensation for that lost. This would add considerable extra expense to the budgeted cost of £4.62m and considerable delay so the council gave permission for the bypass to go ahead starting from the old picnic site.
An interesting aside is to be found in the council’s argument against the lengthy delay. They remarked that the exercise to provide alternative land to replace that required for a new fire station here had already taken 2 years.

All the residents of the three villages were delighted when news that the council had granted planning permission but they had not reckoned with the power of the moth. In 1984/5 the plans were put on hold for further consultations to take place.

For some reason it was the tiny moth that the dominated the headlines especially when Nicholas Ridley, the then Secretary of State for the Environment, recommended that the planning permission be revoked because of the presence of a rare moth on Dersingham Bog. This made headlines in the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere:


“Tiny Moth halts £7m road plan” 
“Councils unite in battle over micro moth.”
“ Is this moth a red herring?”
“Message is: No Minister”
A furious letter, one of many that were printed, in the local press stated ”Once again the mighty (but unseen) moth of the bogs of Dersingham strikes fear into the residents along this part of the coast.”

Letters of protest flooded into the Minister and a local paper of the time, The Citizen, lead the campaign with editorials and angry headlines.

The Dersingham Youth Club sent in a petition demanding the “go-ahead” be given as they considered “ the safety of people to be more important than the saving of a few moths”

Henry Bellingham M.P. had a meeting with Mr. Ridley and made it clear that further delays would cause considerable hardship to the residents of the area.

Local councillors Ian Stockwell, Roy Hipkin and George Pratt objected rigorously. The villagers organised a protest march from the village along the main road to the picnic site which stopped all the traffic. Banners and placards were waved. 

Don’t nick our bypass Nick!  We want our bypass now! Bog off Moth!

They were successful and as we know the construction of the bypass went ahead. It was completed six months ahead of schedule. One month before the road was opened for traffic a charity run was held along its whole length with some 400 runners from all over the country. 

On November 6th 1990 Leslie Potter, Chairman of the Norfolk County Council cut the ribbon at the official opening ceremony before getting into his car to lead a motorcade of councillors and other VIPs  along the completed road.

Victory lay with the villagers and Choristoneura lafauryana had to admit defeat. 

But while we enjoy the obvious benefits of the bypass today the objections raised to its construction highlight the immense importance still of both the Dersingham Bog (Natural England) and our fen, managed by the United Charities. All the matters raised are still relevant today and although much work has been carried out to maintain our unique site by the United Charities there is still much that needs to be done on the fen and on our commons if we are to safeguard our heritage.

But  next time you take a walk around our fen keep a watch out for a tiny brown moth resting on some bog myrtle.   If he is still there he has quite a history!

Here is a gallery of photographs of the bypass from first cut to being open; click any to view in the gallery.