A stunning new visitor centre, part-funded by the LEP, has been unveiled at Carlton Marshes nature reserve, near Lowestoft, in a timely boost for the region’s visitor economy. We spoke to Christine Luxton, Chief Executive of Suffolk Wildlife Trust, about the significance of this new facility and the value of investing in nature.
“Carlton Marshes was the first nature project New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership invested in. Its strategy was all about developing a green economy and clean growth, and in helping to fund the scheme it was recognising that nature has a real role to play. Securing the LEP’s support was not just about the grant of £250,000, but about the emphasis put on nature through the grant and the acknowledgement that nature is not something to be overlooked lightly.
The first step was the opportunity to buy a big sweep of land that wrapped around the existing reserve. It is European designated habitat and a very special site, surrounded by former arable land. We had the opportunity to secure the land for £3 million and transform it back into wildlife habitat. That was critical. Then there was the restoration of that former arable land to wetland. So, a big proportion of capital expenditure went into creating pools, scrapes and dykes. Now we have done that, the reeds are moving back, and we have this amazing mix of fen, grazing marshes and pools, and that is what is so vital for the area. By securing the land, we have that control.
Work on the visitor centre began in September 2019 and the idea was to have it open in 2020. That was well on track until Covid-19 intervened and building work stopped. The centre was eventually handed over to us in the autumn and we have been operating in a scaled-back way due to Covid, so people have come and had takeaway coffees and gone on walks — and the nature experience for people has been phenomenal.
We wanted Carlton Marshes to be the most accessible nature reserve in East Anglia and somewhere that local people would make their own. The visitor centre is here to support that. We have fully accessible toilets with hoists. It is no good having accessible paths if you have an adult or an older child with physical disabilities and there are no toilets for them. Carlton Marshes should become the destination nature reserve for the southern Broads because boats can now moor at Oulton Dyke and the new facilities create a reason for visitors to venture this far south.
The visitor centre is amazing, but the nature reserve is even more amazing. We are about nature, and the new facilities are a focal point to attract people here and developing the economy of Lowestoft. It has always been a seaside town and looked to the sea, but what it has not capitalised on is the Broads National Park on its doorstep. There is a big visitor spend from Felixstowe to Aldeburgh and if we can help Lowestoft tap into that with the marshes, it gives another string to the town’s bow, especially during the ‘shoulder seasons’ — the spring and the autumn, which are fantastic times for migration, and then the winter spectacles. So, this is a great way of bringing people to the Lowestoft area outside of the busy summer season, so that nature boosts the local economy.”
This ambitious project was made possible by support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, New Anglia LEP, Essex & Suffolk Water and Sport England, as well as £1 million raised through many individual donations and local businesses.