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Nature site in Lowestoft is target of an arson attack

PUBLISHED: 12:04 16 February 2015 | UPDATED: 12:04 16 February 2015

Damage at the Gunton Warren Nature Reserve, which has had the chestnut fencing vandalised with the posts ripped out and burnt on a fire. Pictures: Sonja Crawford.

Damage at the Gunton Warren Nature Reserve, which has had the chestnut fencing vandalised with the posts ripped out and burnt on a fire. Pictures: Sonja Crawford.

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It has been described as one of Lowestoft's unique gems.

Damage at the Gunton Warren Nature Reserve, which has had the chestnut fencing vandalised with the posts ripped out and burnt on a fire. Pictures: Sonja Crawford. 
Damage at the Gunton Warren Nature Reserve, which has had the chestnut fencing vandalised with the posts ripped out and burnt on a fire. Pictures: Sonja Crawford.

A once unloved stretch of coastline has been transformed over the past couple of years thanks to the efforts of Suffolk Wildlife Trust (SWT) staff and a team of volunteers.

But there was sadness for the hard-working team at the weekend after arsonists targeted the Gunton Warren Nature Reserve.

Fencing, which had been installed to protect rare plants in shingle areas, was vandalised at the site between Links Road and Tramps Alley – with “posts ripped out and burnt”, to the frustration of volunteers and the reserve’s warden Matt Gooch.

With police inquiries continuing this week, officers are treating the incident as arson.

Before the damage at Gunton Warren reserve. Sea Kale growing in a protected area to encourage it to spread undisturbed,  Picture: James BassBefore the damage at Gunton Warren reserve. Sea Kale growing in a protected area to encourage it to spread undisturbed, Picture: James Bass

Mr Gooch said that damage was caused between Friday and Sunday (February 6-8). He said: “Our Gunton Warren Nature Reserve has had the chestnut fencing vandalised with the posts ripped out and burnt on a fire. These areas are installed to protect rare shingle plants, like sea pea and yellow horned poppy, that are sensitive to trampling and we’re holding on in these areas by a thread.”

The 60-acre site was badly in need of work when the trust took over its management from Waveney District Council in April 2013. After signing a 10-year management agreement with Waveney, the project is being funded by the Coastal Pathfinder scheme as habitat restoration and visitor management on the site is carried out.

Mr Gooch said that since the trust had taken on management of the site, “drastic changes” had taken place. He admitted: “Since taking on the site from Waveney, there has been what looks like drastic changes, but these are needed to resurrect some of the rare habitat that is suppressed under years of no management. This includes habitat like heather heathland, with Gunton Warren being the only piece of coastline in Suffolk with a full ecotone of habitats from shingle, sand dunes, scattered scrub cliffs to heathland.”

With a new volunteer team established, which meets every other Monday on the site, the team consists of about 15 local people who carry out restoration work and general maintenance jobs, such as litter-picking and reserve wardening. And with much being achieved over the past couple of years, the efforts of the volunteers - who spend “lots of their free time helping manage the site”, according to Mr Gooch - were tarnished by the vandals at the weekend.

Mr Gooch added: “One of the important things about Gunton Warren is there isn’t a piece of coastline like that anywhere else in Suffolk.”

And highlighting the importance of the nature reserve, the Suffolk Wildlife Trust website states: “Gunton Warren is one of the Lowestoft’s gems, another fragment of wonderful wildlife habitat right on the doorstep of a town.”

A police spokesman said: “This incident is being treated as arson. Overnight damage was caused to fencing as someone pulled down the fence posts and set fire to them.”

■ Information to PC David Stranks at Lowestoft police on 101.

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