Nature thriving right on our doorstep
HIDDEN at the heart of the Waveney valley is a wildlife haven like no other.
The Oulton Marshes nature reserve, sprawling over 214 acres (86ha) of north Suffolk, is a mosaic of wetland habitats made up of fen meadows, dykes, pools and scrubland.
It is home to birds such as Cetti's warbler and marsh harrier, delicate orchids and the rare marsh pea plant, as well as secretive otters and water voles.
Over the past three years Suffolk Wildlife Trust's reserve has undergone a subtle transformation, growing in size from 90 to 214 acres.
At 10am today swathes of new public access will be officially declared open by Waveney MP Peter Aldous. On Monday wardens will lead a community walk around the reserve, giving locals a chance to learn about the nature living on their doorstep.
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'One of the joys of this place is that it feels like you are a million miles away from anyway,' said reserve manager Matt Gooch.
'Sometimes you forget that you're just on the edge of Lowestoft. It is an amazing place.'
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The trust began reshaping the Oulton Marshes in 2008, buying up parcels of land and re-introducing cattle grazing.
They then set about securing funding to carry out improvements – a �284,533 Biffaward grant to pay for new land, restore the wetlands and boost flood alleviation; �33,000 from Environment Agency for habitat creation; �22,650 from Network Rail for machinery, habitat management costs, and new signs; �10,000 from Essex & Suffolk Water for wider conservation work. The Broads Authority grant aided the restoration of a fen with �10,000 and is now supporting new interpretation panels to help the public.
Legacies from 11 individuals have also been used to match fund the grants and make more land acquisitions possible.
'It is about getting the best from the site for visitors and wildlife,' said Matt.
'A lot of the work we're doing is to encourage wildlife to stay here over the winter months.
'Some of the dykes have been widened as part of the river wall work. As well as stopping any saline water from coming onto the marsh and polluting the fresh water, it has created entire new habitats.'
Two years ago the Broads Authority and Broadland Environmental Services together with Suffolk Wildlife Trust began work to strengthen and rebuild the river wall along a stretch of the Waveney which slices through the reserve.
Just last month a viewing platform was installed on the wall to encourage walkers to stop and soak in the surroundings – the once narrow overgrown dykes that are now vast expanses of open water inhabited by wetland birds and water loving plants.
Elsewhere, visitors should keep an eye out for the marsh pea plant – Oulton Marshes was the only site in Suffolk that this rare plant was recorded in 2010.
There are also breathtakingly colourful bursts of ragged robin, bog pimpernel, water violets and age old tussock sedge thriving across the site. Much of the plant life has found a home at Oulton Marshes as a direct result of the cattle grazing, a traditional way to maintain marshland.
It is also a glimpse into what the site could be in the future – evermore important part of the Suffolk Broads Living Landscape.
Call Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Carlton Marshes education centre on 01502 564250
More information and an illustrated trail map of Oulton Marshes is available online at www.suffolkwildlifetrust.org