Get in touch with nature for a cheap day out in Suffolk
- Credit: Paul Geater
The lockdowns over the last two years inspired many people to use their "exercise" to visit local parks or simply to go for walks in the countryside near their homes.
But now restrictions have been lifted, that interest still seems to be there for some - and with people being able to travel wherever they like there is a growing interest on Suffolk's nature reserves and country parks.
There are also more people using country footpaths - sometimes just for exercise and to get lungfulls of fresh air, but also those armed with binoculars and long-lens cameras to see what they can find.
Suffolk has a wealth of nature reserves ranging from those that are major destinations in their own right like the RSPB's Minsmere or Lakenheath Fen to small pocket areas that receive minimal management but are oases for nature.
And with young people taking more of an interest in nature, it is increasingly common to see families on nature reserves' waymarked trails or following countryside walks.
The great advantage of these for families is that it is a relatively cheap day out and a good way for everyone to get exercise and enjoy exploring what is on their doorstep.
It is also good for people who remain nervous about large crowds after the pandemic - you are always likely to see other people at nature reserves but there is so much space and it is outdoors so you are unlikely to catch anything nasty.
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And for those with an interest in nature there is usually something very interesting to see.
Over recent weeks I've seen a pair of cranes flying over Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Lackford Lakes reserve - as well as the first bullfinches I had seen for years.
Red Kites have become quite a familiar sight in Suffolk skies over recent years. And Marsh Harriers which have been common at Minsmere for years can now be seen at wetland reserves across the area - I saw a pair hunting at Redgrave and Lopham Fen on the Suffolk/Norfolk border last week.
Some attractions that are not seen as primarily nature reserves are nevertheless magnets for nature-lovers. The walks at the National Trust's Sutton Hoo estate link in with public footpaths to give visitors the opportunity to see a huge range of wildlife from the River Deben to sandy heathlands.
SWT reserves - including their largest like Carlton Marshes near Lowestoft, Lackford Lakes and Redgrave and Lopham Fen, have free entry although they welcome donations and many visitors are members of the Trust.
The RSPB and National Trust do charge entrance fees to their larger properties - although they have smaller areas like Kyson Point at Woodbridge (NT) or Wolves Wood at Hadleigh (RSPB) that are free. Both these organisations do have millions of members who get into their properties free.
Of course people may have to spend some money on fuel to drive to these places - nature reserves tend to be some way from public transport except Lakenheath Fen which is next to a railway station which is only served by trains on Sundays!
But for a relatively cheap day out and a way to keep the family amused and interested for hours a visit to one of Suffolk's many nature reserves fits the bill nicely.