Sir David Attenborough backs Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s £1m plea for Broads development

Sir David Attenborough reopened the Abberton Reservoir for Essex and Suffolk Water and Essex Wildlif

Sir David Attenborough reopened the Abberton Reservoir for Essex and Suffolk Water and Essex Wildlife Trust. The reservoir has had an enormous amount of work done to it as a reservoir and as a wildlife habitat. - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

Suffolk Wildlife Trust today launches an ambitious £1million public appeal as part of a land purchase plan that is on a scale “unprecedented” in the nature charity’s long history.

The marshes at Carlton Colville

The marshes at Carlton Colville - Credit: Archant

It aims to restore a vast, wild Broadland landscape in the north of the county with the acquisition of huge areas of land adjoining the trust’s Carlton and Oulton marshes complex on the doorstep of Suffolk’s second largest town.

The appeal has the “whole-hearted” support of Sir David Attenborough - the highly respected elder statesman of UK wildlife conservation - and is seen by the acclaimed East Anglian nature writer Simon Barnes as a project that “joins up horizons”.

The trust aims to buy Peto’s Marsh, and Share Marsh, adjoining Oulton Marshes and Carlton Marshes respectively. Their purchase, together with the acquisition of other smaller parcels of land, will add 384 acres to the trust’s existing 627-acre nature reserve.

If the £1m from the public appeal is achieved and added to other funding for the project, the result will be a £3m land purchase and trust land ownership at the site of 1,011 acres, with the 175-acre Castle Marshes being a near neighbour a short distance to the west along the Waveney Valley.

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Ultimately, the trust hopes, the new and much-enlarged wildlife site will be designated as the Suffolk Broads National Nature Reserve on the southern fringe of Norfolk and Suffolk’s Broads National Park.

Sir David, Professor Emeritus of The Wildlife Trusts, has hailed the Suffolk charity’s ambition as a “unique opportunity”.

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He said: “Please help Suffolk Wildlife Trust rescue this precious corner of East Anglia and bring back wildlife in all its splendour. By giving generously you will be investing not just in wildlife but in the happiness and fulfilment of thousands of people now and in the future.

“Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s ambition to extend Carlton and Oulton Marshes is a unique opportunity to do just this and it has my whole-hearted support.”

An appeal leaflet, going out to the trust’s membership of more than 28,000, says: “In every way, the scale of the opportunity Suffolk Wildlife Trust has now to buy the fields flanking our Broadland nature reserves is unprecedented.

“The ecological value of the current reserves is reflected in the national and international habitat protection given to them, but it was only relatively recently that the incomparable richness of the Broads National Park became clear to ecologists. We now realise the diversity of species and the number of rare and unique species that depend on the Broads for their survival far exceeds all other UK National Parks.

“So, the chance to create 1,000 acres of wildness in the Broads is of national significance for wildlife. We hope it will ultimately become the Suffolk Broads National Nature Reserve.

“The River Waveney, Oulton Dyke and Oulton Broad create connections into the Broadland landscape beyond the reserve. Add to this the marshes that are maintained by neighbouring landowners and the impact for wildlife escalates yet more.”

The appeal literature looks back to 1978 when local naturalists fought a campaign against the sale of the land the trust now has the chance to buy.

“Sadly, their fears for the loss of so much wetland wildlife were to be realised, when the marshes were drained and ploughed up,” it says.

“We can never replace all that was lost, but by creating the mix of wet habitats they need, we can bolster the populations of nationally rare animals and plants that have been protected by the (adjoining) nature reserve.”

The appeal would allow the creation of a new reedbed - the largest in the Broads - that would support breeding marsh harriers and bitterns as well as reed buntings, grasshopper warblers and lesser known reedbed species such as white-mantled wainscot moth, which had only been found in Suffolk, the literature says.

“The network of freshwater ditches will be amongst the best in the UK,” the leaflet forecasts. Specialist plants like bladderwort and water soldier and vulnerable aquatic invertebrates that are wholly dependent on Broadland will be able to spread across the landscape through seven miles of restored water-filled ditches. For some of the aquatic snails this will take decades, whilst more mobile species like water vole, fen raft spider and Norfolk hawker will soon be on the move,” it says. “Over 150 acres of marsh, fen meadow and shallow pools will be created, with thousands of metres of soft muddy edges, for wintering wildfowl and nationally declining waders like lapwing and redshank to feed. Buying the land now will secure its future as a home for wildlife, for ever.”

Broads Authority chief executive John Packman adds his support by saying: “The natural world needs our help as never before. What a tremendous opportunity this is to repair the mistakes of the past and bring nature back to this special part of the Broads.”

Nature writer Simon Barnes, formerly of Suffolk and who now lives in south Norfolk, adds: “This is a project that joins up horizons.”

The trust cites its recent creation of a “scrape” on its Carlton Marshes reserve as an example of how Broadland wildlife can be helped to thrive. It says: “In just four years these shallow pools have attracted an extraordinary range of birds - purple heron, black-tailed godwit, great white egret, avocet, spoonbill, glossy ibis...” It adds: “It is thrilling to imagine the benefits for wildlife of creating wet habitats like this across 20 times the area!

Trust chairman Ian Brown is in no doubt over the importance of the appeal.

Acquisition of the appeal land fitted in with a long-held “vision”, he said.

“Forty years ago most of this land was basically lost and most of its marshes were ploughed. We have always had a dream of restoration for this area and this now gives us the opportunity for a 1,000-acre reserve,” he said.

The creation of such a landscape of wildness would have major significance for wildlife species - many of which had suffered serious depletions nationally - but would also bring great benefits for people and the nearby communities of Lowestoft and its surrounding areas. Due to its proximity to so many people it will have a material impact in terms of positive outcomes for people’s health and wellbeing as well as education. It will also very much be a positive thing for the community in terms of tourism and therefore, ultimately, in terms of job creation,” said Mr Brown.

It was “reassuring” to know that the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) had approved the trust’s initial plans for the land purchase and restoration, together with proposals to improve the reserve for visitors and extend its education activity. Detailed planning to secure full HLF support was under way, Gift Aid arrangements were being made, legacy gifts had already been received and it was hoped that support would be offered by businesses and councils, said Mr Brown.

“Every £10 people donate we can convert into £30 - every £100 people donate we can convert in to £300. The public appeal target is £1m and we are confident that we can reach it. Collectively we can create a wonderful nature reserve which will be a benefit to all.”

HLF has awarded the trust a development grant of £246,300 to work on the detailed plans necessary to secure a full grant of £4m for all aspects of the project.

Drew Bennellick, Head of landscape and natural heritage at HLF, added: “Thanks to National Lottery players we’re pleased to support these plans which will create fantastic opportunities for people to reconnect with wildlife and nature right on the doorstep of Lowestoft.

“We wish Suffolk Wildlife Trust all the best as they embark on their fundraising scheme which will enable us all to get involved with the creation of an exciting new landscape and secure a bright future for the Suffolk Broads.”

In Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s £1million Broads appeal literature, a quirky black-and-white photograph shows a youthful and smiling Jean Hannaford with a little owl perched on her head.

Precariously perched on her head the rescued owl may have been, but Mrs Hannaford always had the welfare of all living things firmly in her heart.

A trust member for 42 years and a long-serving regional organiser for the RSPCA in Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex, Mrs Hannaford was an uncompromising champion of wildlife and animal welfare until her death about two years ago.

She is featured in the trust’s appeal leaflet because she remembered the charity in her will. The trust says her “generosity, and that of others like her, means we can seize this opportunity to achieve something spectacular”.

Mrs Hannaford lived for many years with her husband, Bill, in Holbrook, near Ipswich. After his death about eight years ago, she moved to a smaller property in Harkstead.

Friends of Mr Hannaford said she would have been “absolutely thrilled” to think that her legacy gift was helping the trust to secure an important part of Suffolk’s Broads for wildlife.

Retired RSPCA inspector and branch support specialist Colin Strong was a close working colleague and friend of Mrs Hannaford for many years. From his north Devon home, Mr Strong recalled Mrs Hannaford as an “extremely strident advocate” for animal welfare, wildlife and the natural environment.

“She did not take any prisoners when it came to such things,” he said.

“Jean’s life and the things that she cared about were really an amalgam of animal welfare combined with an intellectual knowledge of and love for wildlife and the environment.

“It was the essence of her working life, in which she spent a great deal of time in hands-on care as well as organisationally, and it was also the essence of her life in general. She was a highly intelligent and caring individual,” said Mr Strong.

He recalled an example that showed her love of animals.

Mrs Hannaford’s husband had “taken a shine” to one of the Dexter cattle a local farmer grazed on their land at Holbrook. After Mr Hannaford’s death, Jean had been “distraught” when she thought the cow - known as Lindy - had been taken away for slaughter.

However, there had been “some mix-up” at the slaughterhouse and when the cow arrived back in Holbrook she decided to buy it - “and she looked after it until the end of its days,” said Mr Strong.

Mrs Hannaford would have been pleased and proud to be associated with the trust’s Broads appeal, he said.

“She would have been absolutely thrilled. Bill was a very keen sailor and wetlands were very special to Jean. She would be especially pleased that she’s helping to buy an area that will become such a wild and wet place because so many of our wetlands are vulnerable places and yet they have so many species that depend on this type of habitat.”

Carol Russell also knew Mrs Hannaford well and the women were great friends .

Mrs Russell described Jean as “a battler and a fighter for the rights of animals” who was a “real one-off.”

She was “clear-thinking, with a good brain, an amazing memory and a love of all natural history.” She was “very capable” profesionally, “very knowledgeable” about wildlife and the environment and would have been “extremely pleased” to think that her legacy for the trust was helping enable it to buy land that would become so important for nature.

•Donations to the appeal can be given online at the Suffolk Wildlife Trust website, donations can be made by phoning the trust on 01473 890089 or cheques, made payable to Suffolk Wildlife Trust, can be sent to Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Brooke House, Ashbocking, Ipswich IP6 9JY

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