A stunning visitor centre at Carlton Marshes nature reserve which received investment from New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership has been officially opened by Princess Anne.
On her visit, The Princess Royal also unveiled a plaque marking the 60th anniversary of Suffolk Wildlife Trust and met some of the key funders, staff and volunteers who have turned the ambitious vision for Carlton Marshes to become the southern gateway to the Broads National Park into reality.
The huge project to create a vast, nature reserve is the result of an inspirational collaboration. In 2018, the National Lottery Heritage Fund awarded a grant of £4.2 million to the project, with an additional £1 million raised in donations and support from local people and businesses, including £250k from the LEP’s Growing Places Fund, £100k from Essex & Suffolk Water, and £1 million from legacy gifts.
That allowed Suffolk Wildlife Trust to purchase former bean fields, transforming them into a vibrant mix of wetland habitats where Broadland wildlife such as otters and kingfishers can thrive, and build a welcoming visitor centre with a café and create a network of beautiful trails.
LEP Chair C-J Green, who was among those attending the opening event, said. “Tourism is essential to this region’s economic prosperity and this fully accessible facility is expected to attract 120,000 visitors a year and result in additional spending of £1.3m in the wider area. This will be a massive boost for Lowestoft, creating a southern gateway to the Norfolk Broads.
“We recognise nature has a significant contribution to make to the clean growth which is so central to our economic strategy for Norfolk and Suffolk and places like Carlton Marshes protect and support our precious biodiversity.”
Suffolk Wildlife Trust CEO Christine Luxton said: “I am delighted that HRH The Princess Royal has joined us to mark the opening of our new visitor centre and this fabulous nature reserve to commemorate the Trust’s 60th anniversary. With the challenges of coronavirus, it wasn’t possible to open last year as planned, so we are overjoyed to be at a point now where we will soon be able to throw our doors fully open and welcome people in.
“Throughout the pandemic, Carlton Marshes has been a place where local people have been able to walk and escape into nature. Connecting people with nature is incredibly important to Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Few nature reserves have a town as large as Lowestoft on their doorstep, and we know from our visitors that it has been a welcome sanctuary for them over the past year.”
After an extensive programme of earthworks to create a new network of pools and Broadland dykes, nature is now taking the lead. The new grazing marshes and reedbeds are already supporting breeding populations of nationally scarce species including lapwings, redshank, marsh harriers and water voles and with the reserve’s location on the UK’s most easterly point, thrilling birdwatchers with the rarities dropping in on migration.
Carlton Marshes is home to much more than rarities – it is the sheer abundance of nature, in a time of biodiversity crisis, that makes it so special. The water-filled Broadland dykes, which bring life to the landscape are teeming with insect larvae, water snails and the magnificent fen raft spider as well as extraordinary insect eating plants. Indeed, with 28 species of dragonflies recorded here, Carlton Marshes is the UK’s richest dragonfly site.
Anne Jenkins, Director England Midlands and East, National Lottery Heritage Fund said: “National Lottery players have recognised landscapes and nature as especially important. They form the bedrock of our culture and heritage, improving wellbeing, sparking curiosity, and protecting and providing for the communities surrounding and inhabiting them. This is why we are proud to support Suffolk Wildlife Trust and the Carlton Marshes project in creating a bigger, better and more joined up natural landscape with magnificent new opportunities for everyone to enjoy and explore.”