RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk has been named winner of the Accessible and Inclusive Tourism award at the East of England Tourism Awards 2022-2023.

Located near Saxmundham on the Suffolk coast, RSPB Minsmere provides a haven for more than 6,300 species – including rare birds such as marsh harriers, bitterns, bearded tits and avocets.

The RSPB began managing Minsmere in 1947, and the site has expanded to a total of 2,500 acres of different habitats, from woodland to lagoons. Minsmere hosted BBC’s Springwatch programme from 2014-2016.

Those visiting the reserve have the chance to spot wildlife through its guided walks and safaris. By far the largest group of visitors is birdwatchers, who visit from all over the country, but holidaymakers, day-trippers and education providers also pay regular visits.

The site also boasts a well-stocked shop and a cafe serving its famous cheese scones and homemade meals. There is also an educational Discovery Centre, which welcomes school groups and hosts events.

The judges said that what has been achieved at Minsmere in terms of accessibility and inclusivity, as well as the site’s future plans, “certainly made the visit very memorable”.

They added that “the attraction itself enables all visitors to feel very welcome and included”, with accessible bird-watching hides being a particular highlight.

Finally, the judges felt that the experiences offered at Minsmere, as well as the outreach work it does through education, the volunteers and the site’s collaborative ventures, “all contribute to Minsmere’s popularity and success”.

“We are immensely proud of this award, which recognises the completion of the major Access for All path project to improve accessibility on the reserve,” said Bryonny Tuijl, visitor operations manager, who thanked the Waveney Bird Club, the Coasts and Heaths AONB and the staff on site for their support.

She also said: “We are committed to improving access and inclusivity on the reserve further.”


The finalists

Silver - Jimmy's Farm and Wildlife Park

Jimmy’s Farm and Wildlife Park in Wherstead, Suffolk is a working livestock farm and wildlife park that is home to 100 species. There is also an onsite farm shop, restaurant and various retail stores, as well as a play area and woodland walk.

The judges were impressed with the “collaborative team approach” to the farm’s accessibility and diversity aims.

They also praised the “significant investment” into pathways and access on site, and the external collaborations to help the team raise their own awareness.

Bronze - Watatunga Wildlife Reserve

Situated near King’s Lynn in Norfolk, Watatunga Wildlife Reserve is home to over 25 types of deer, antelope and rare birds.

The family-run reserve operates guided tours in self-drive buggies or trailers, runs private tours and experiences and has fully accessible self-catering accommodation on site, as well as contributing to breeding programmes for endangered animals.

The judges said that Watatunga has “created an environment with a key focus on accessibility”, and they were particularly impressed with the “tailored approach” offered for individual visitor needs.