Watatunga Wildlife Reserve has been named the winner of the New Tourism Business of the Year award, sponsored by Larking Gowen, at the East of England Tourism Awards 2021-2022.

Watatunga Wildlife Reserve stretches across 170 acres of woodland in King’s Lynn, Norfolk and is home to more than 20 types of deer, antelope and rare birds.

The family-run business also collaborates with international zoos and safari parks to run breeding programmes for some of the world’s most endangered animals.

Visitors can take part in daily guided buggy tours of the reserve, where they will be introduced to the park’s magnificent animals by enthusiastic guides that help bring their conservation stories to life.

There is also self-catering accommodation on the site in newly-renovated holiday lodges, providing a unique staycation safari experience in the county.

The judges said that the “ambitious, impressive” conservation programme that provides a sanctuary for forgotten animal species was what stood out for them about Watatunga.

They praised the team for creating a natural habitat for the animals where they feel safe and can display natural behaviour, but which also celebrates their unique species.

Ed Pope, founder of Watatunga Wildlife Reserve, said: “We entered the award as it seemed a fantastic opportunity to reflect on the incredible effort our team had made to get Watatunga off the ground in the midst of a pandemic.

“Winning this award means the world – it feels like all the effort has been recognised and it is a huge boost to us as we launch our tour dates for the 2022 season."

About the sponsor

The tourism and leisure team at Larking Gowen works with a broad range of businesses across the sector. They have been supporting the sector for many years through collaboration and innovative surveys, such as the annual Tourism Business Survey. Produced in partnership with other leading firms, this independent survey provides a snapshot of our region’s industry and is a valuable benchmarking tool: www.tourismsurveys.co.uk

During the pandemic, Larking Gowen launched its Tourism Business Chat podcast series. With insights from prominent business leaders throughout the region, this podcast helps businesses feel less alone during this turbulent time.

The finalists

Beach Street Felixstowe – Highly Commended

Beach Street Felixstowe in Suffolk comprises units created from upcycled shipping containers that offer everything from street food to yoga classes. The work to champion independent traders and attract visitors to the town was what stood out the most to the judges.

Old Buckenham Country Park – Highly Commended

Old Buckenham Country Park provides glamping, wild camping and touring experiences in 35 acres of scenic Norfolk countryside. The judges were impressed with the amount of work, commitment and thought that has gone into making this new campsite a success.


LandyCampers in Dunmow, Essex rents out converted Land Rover Defenders that are fully equipped to provide a unique camping holiday. The commitment and passion that the owners bring to the business impressed the judges, along with their determination to convert non-campers.

Rayne Heritage

Rayne Heritage is a community group that celebrates the history of the Essex village through local information boards, a website and a Heritage Trail. The judges praised the projects “interesting” use of technology and commitment to bringing visitors to the village.