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Ford Meadow, Thetford

Ford Meadow is an area of land owned by Thetford Town Council, located by the River Thet, just east of Nuns' Bridges.

The land includes permissive paths exiting south to the The Gentle Bridge, west to Nuns' Bridges, and east to the BTO Riverside Corridor. The path from the east to the south is part of the wheelchair-accessible Arlington to Nuns' Bridges Path. Two separate areas of the meadow are fenced off to allow grazing (see below). At the north-west corner of the meadow, the River Thet breached its bank in June 2018, leading to the diversion of the Thet.

Grazing by Water Buffalo

In January 2019, a small herd of Asian Water Buffalo was introduced to Ford Meadow as part of a conservation scheme. The buffalo will graze the grassy vegetation, reducing its height and allowing other plant species to re-establish themselves. Over the last few years, species such as toad rush and water avens have been crowded out by more prolific growing plants.

The buffalo, which are of a similar size to cattle, are from a local grazing heard that has been used for similar purposes at other sites. While the herd are grazing, the paths through the fenced-off areas are closed to the public. The main through paths (outside the fencing) remain open.

The buffalo are only left to graze the meadow for a few weeks at a time. They were first there in January and February 2019, and then returned in July that year.

Asian Water Buffalo grazing on Ford Meadow in January 2019.

Kissing Gate Controversy

In Spring 2017, Thetford Town Council installed fencing around Ford Meadow, in order to allow grazing on the meadow for conservation reasons. The River Thet formed one boundary, with the fence enclosing the other sides of the meadow. Kissing gates were installed where the three paths entered the meadow.

The fencing and kissing gates were installed without any local consultation. While the tender document specified that the gates on the paths should be "accessible", the gates that were installed by the contractor were not. Insufficient manoeuvring space was provided either side, and a RADAR key bypass was not included, both in contravention of British Standard BS 5709:2006. This was a particular problem as the Arlington Way to Nuns' Bridges Riverside Path (which runs through the meadow) was specifically designed to be accessible for mobility scooter and electric wheelchair users. Despite this path being a joint project between Thetford Town Council and Brettenham & Kilverstone Parish Council, the latter was not consulted about the new gates.

Following complaints from Brettenham & Kilverstone Parish Council and local residents, the Town Council asked an accessibility expert to examine the gates. Following his report, the Town Council agreed to ensure the routes through the meadow were fully accessible (press release, April 6th 2017). Rather than providing better gates (which would still represent a barrier to users) it was decided to re-align the fencing so the paths would remain outside the fenced-off area. In October 2017, the gates were removed and new fencing was added to the east of the path to enclose the eastern part of the meadow. The semi-accessible kissing gates were installed in this fencing to provide pedestrian access to the informal path around the eastern boundary.

Much later, in late October / early November 2018, the western part of the meadow was similarly fenced. Two more semi-accessible kissing gates were included allowing pedestrian access to the informal path through that part of the meadow. The accessible path to Arlington Way, and the route out to Nun's Bridges remain outside the fencing and un-obstructed.