Sunday, 12 February 2012

Ted Ellis, Wheatfen and Coypu

The Norfolk naturalist and writer Ted Ellis was an almost mythical figure when I was growing up in East Anglia and he was talked about regularly at Museum club at the Castle Museum when I was a boy. I was showing my own children the wonderful natural history Norfolk diorama's at the Castle museum this week, wonderfully painted exhibits showing different types of landscape that he was so instrumental in commissioning. It was wonderful to meet his grand-daughter, Rose, today and to see the beautiful marsh cottage house where he and his family lived and to talk to Rose as we walked around Wheatfen with friends. Amongst other stories she recalled eating coypu as a child, which her grandma pretended was rabbit, and how the children would use coypu teeth as counters in board games. I certainly remember seeing coypu myself, on eel fishing trips and walks by the river before they were all eradicated, and although I accept that they were artificially introduced and destructive, I'm still slightly sad that they are now gone.

Coypu were introduced to East Anglia, for fur, in 1929; many escaped and damaged the drainage works, and a concerted programme by MAFF eradicated them by 1989. (WIKIPEDIA)

I had a nice talk with David the warden at Wheatfen as I left today (17/02/12) and he showed me his skull collection. He had heron and owl specimens but also a rare bittern skull and many small examples of species of deer. The teeth on the chinese water deer skull were quite astonishingly long and although I have seen these protrude from the deer's mouths I hadn't realised quite how impressive they were. I will certainly be back to Wheatfen later this year, it's a wonderful and inspiring piece of fenland.


  1. It really is a magical place, isn't it? And great that the family have been able to stay there giving a sense of continuity between people and the habitat. Didn't realise you managed to catch up with the warden - sounds like a great collection...

  2. Hi Ads, yes he was a really nice chap and I hope to visit again, wonderful job. Interesting to see a bittern skull and I offered to help with any open days/children/art etc that should happen if I happen to be on holiday and in Norfolk. I'm also going to join the trust so that I hear about activities and can support the work there.