Life in lockdown has been tough for all of us – but a pioneering new project in Suffolk has been helping to give people something positive to do which lifts their spirits.
Beautiful National Lottery-funded Carlton Marshes, managed by Suffolk Wildlife Trust, has seen visitor numbers soar as people once again enjoy the bird life, fresh air and stunning wetland landscape.
As well as providing habitats for endangered species, the nature reserve is proving a wonderful way of boosting visitors’ mental health in these difficult times. Local people have been seeking out the reserve’s 8km of paths to help them unwind.
Gavin Durrant, 53, who works in a printing factory, is one of those who has become hooked. He says: “The crisis has been getting a lot of people down, but coming here really recharges my batteries. I’ve seen egrets, swans, warblers and waders.”
Since 2019 the area near Lowestoft has been transformed into an extended 1,000-acre wildlife wonderland thanks to National Lottery funding. And more recently they’ve been adding new sections of path to help visitors maintain social distancing.
Site manager Matt Gooch says: “It’s good to embrace the positives. Hopefully a bigger part of the population has gained an understanding of how important the spaces in our countryside are, not just for wildlife but for people’s wellbeing.”
The funding allowed the Trust to buy 400 acres of new land to expand Carlton Marshes, replacing fields of beans and wheat with a wetland environment.
Hundreds of tonnes of earth have been moved, new waterways cut and paths created to help its 40,000-plus annual visitors (in more normal times) enjoy the unique setting.
It’s home to thousands of birds, including lapwings, avocets and redshanks, as well as other creatures such as water voles and 28 species of dragonfly.
A state-of-the-art visitor centre and café is set to open soon, along with hides for birdwatchers at what’s been billed as the gateway to the Broads National Park.
Matt, 38, who has overseen the project, says: “It’s been a real success – there’s a lot of excitement.
“Many people have discovered Carlton Marshes who would not normally come down here because of their busy job and family life.
“It’s been really interesting to see a complete cross-section of visitors – from photographers and birdwatchers through to dog walkers and families. We’ve had people saying they can’t wait for the visitor centre to be open and wanting to explore more.”
Matt, one of two wardens on site, says his typical day can see him doing anything from surveys of species numbers to cutting new reed beds.
He adds: “The most rewarding part for me is seeing people enjoy the site. Sometimes they are really excited by what they have seen – it reminds you of what a special place Carlton Marshes is.”
With more volunteers signing up, and the visitor centre due to open by the autumn as lockdown eases further, the site’s future is looking bright.
And Matt wants to thank National Lottery players for making it possible: “Without people buying a Lottery ticket, this project would not happen. But the benefit to the public is immeasurable.”
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