Carlton Marshes manager outlines proposals after £4m Heritage Lottery Fund award

Suffolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve manager Matt Gooch is as excited as a child on Christmas morning. And it’s as if he’s got the pick of the sweetshop and is about to unwrap his shiny new bike on his birthday, too.

He is mega-excited, in fact. After years of behind-the-scenes planning and filling in Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant application forms with fingers firmly crossed for a positive outcome, the trust announced this week that it has been awarded the £4,063,000 National Lottery grant that will turn its Carlton Marshes super-reserve vision into reality.

For Mr Gooch and the entire trust team it was the news they had been hoping and waiting for. But it’s not the end of the road that leads to a 1,000-acre wetland wildlife wonderland on the doorstep of Lowestoft, Oulton Broad and Carlton Colville - it’s just the beginning.

What comes next is a little more planning and a lot more work on the ground - and Mr Gooch cannot wait to get started.

The HLF award will enable the trust to complete the purchase of 348 acres surrounding its existing nature reserve - including the addition of the vast Peto’s Marsh and Share Marsh - and create a new landscape-scale reserve that will become a gateway to the Broads National Park. It will be the biggest habitat restoration and wetland creation in the National Park for a decade and it is the trust’s ambition for the site to become a National Nature Reserve in the next five years – reflecting its ecological importance as well as its social and cultural impact for thousands of local people and visitors alike.

As widely reported in a week of high-level media interest, the Sir David Attenborough-backed project has been hailed by trust chief executive Julian Roughton as a “defining moment” for Suffolk’s conservation efforts and one of the most significant events in the charity’s 56-year history. The whole project will cost about £8m, with a further £4m in addition to the HLF award coming from the trust through such sources as legacy gifts and the ongoing public fundraising campaign – which is now only about £91,000 away from its £1m target.

Mr Gooch outlined the work that lies ahead with barely concealed zeal.

“The first thing is to carry out mitigation work for the existing wildlife, such as reptiles, water voles and ground-nesting birds, that will pave the way for the creation of the new habitats,” he said. “Groundworks for the new visitor centre, which will include a cafe and shop, will hopefully be started before Christmas after checks to find out if there is any archaeological interest that has to be considered, and then there’ll be work on the new car park and the new reserve entrance that will still be via Burnt Hill Lane but will be before the point where people currently come in.”

Habitat creation would involve 50 acres of dry grassland of the type formerly found extensively on the higher reaches of the Waveney Valley but which had been largely lost under the plough in recent decades. Such habitat would be highly valuable for a wide range of invertebrates and bird species such as skylark.

Wet grassland elements of the new reserve would involve the creation of more shallow wetland “scrapes” with extensive muddy fringes that would be beneficial to wading birds and wildfowl. An existing Carlton Marshes scrape had already proved its worth for breeding, passage and overwintering birds and the plans included the creation of 15 times the amount of such habitat and 10km of new dykes that would be important for a wide range of aquatic plants and insects, he said.

Some areas of the new reserve contained deep peaty soils that would allow the creation of fen meadow habitat in which specialised plant species such as southern marsh orchid and milk parsley could thrive. Areas known as “turf ponds” would add to the fen meadow habitat’s interest by allowing pioneer species such as stoneworts to colonise.

A vast new reedbed, one of the biggest in Broadland, was being designed with the aim of attracting breeding common cranes to the reserve as well as bolstering populations of other reedbed specialists such as great bittern, bearded tit and marsh harrier.

“It will be a dynamically managed new reserve, with areas being dried out and wetted up in rotation to bring about maximum wildlife benefits,” said Mr Gooch.

“With the new reserve being on the doorstep of at least 75,000 local residents we want to encourage local people’s connection with the site and its wildlife. There’ll be boardwalks and easy access trails for local people and visitors from further afield. One of the six new hides and viewing points will be a tower hide that will give people views at an eye-level of about 4.5 metres - just above the height of the reeds - and that will be spectacular. “The education potential for local schools is enormous - we want to involve local schoolchildren in the creation of the new reedbed, for example,” he added. “It’s all just so exciting - we just cannot wait to get going.”

Donations to the trust’s continuing £1m appeal can be made via

International interest in reserve’s rarity

A United Nations of birdwatchers has continued to boost Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s fundraising for its expanded Carlton Marshes nature reserve, as thousands of visitors have converged on the site to see its mega-rare American bittern.

The trust’s site manager Matt Gooch said that by this week a total of about 3,500 birdwatchers had been attracted to the marshes to see the transatlantic vagrant, including many who had returned time and again to enjoy the occasion.

“We’ve had visitors from Germany, Belgium, Holland, Poland, Spain and France as well as many parts of Britain who have come specially to see the bird,” he said. “They’ve donated a total of more than £3,300 in the bucket collections, there’s been lots of online donations, we’ve had 20 new members sign up for the trust and we think there’s also been quite a positive impact for the local economy.”

American bittern is a species never before seen in Suffolk, with only a tiny handful of records in modern UK ornithological history. The bird is often treating its admirers to close views as it hunts for small fish in ditches near pathways and has been seen interacting with Carlton Marshes’ more familiar - but still scarce - great bitterns.