carlton marshes copyright kevin millican

Carlton Marshes © Kevin Millican (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The South Yare Wildlife Group recently enjoyed a fascinating talk by Matt Gooch, Broads Sites Manager at Suffolk Wildlife Trust, on the future plans and ambitions for their Carlton Marshes reserve near Carlton Colville.

Following a huge public funding raising effort and a Heritage Lottery Fund application, a total of 1000 hectares are now under nature conservation management. The Trust bought 384 hectares of former agricultural land and plans are to create a southern gateway to the Broads.

The Carlton Marshes site was described by Matt as the “broads in miniature” as it contains all the characteristic habitat features important for the area’s biodiversity. There is an extensive dyke network with plants such as water soldier and frogbit, and creatures ranging in size from fen raft spiders to water voles. There are areas of grazing marsh on the wet grassland, fen meadow over the peat soils, shallow scrapes and deeper peat diggings with open water and fringing reedswamp. Broadland specialist birds include marsh harriers and Cetti’s warblers.

Part of the land purchased includes Peto’s Marsh, situated between the River Waveney and Oulton Dyke. Here 80 hectares of artificially drained arable land is planned to be reverted back to wet reedbed. This transformation will involve a major habitat creation scheme including excavating new dykes, stimulating reedbeds through raising water levels and digging deeper pools of water.

To enable visitors to make the most of these developments, the ethos at Carlton Marshes will be “access for all”. The policy of having no entry charge for members of the trust, or for the general public, is set to continue. New footpaths, hides, boardwalks and a tower hide will enable people with the widest range of abilities to get within viewing distance of the site’s biodiversity. The architecturally stunning visitor centre, café and children’s play scape area will ensure everyone’s visit starts and ends in a comfortable and enjoyable way.

The whole project cost comes to a whopping £7.9 million in total, with £1 million of that raised entirely from public contributions, aided by some high profile celebrity endorsements. David Attenborough lent his support, but the timely presence of a very rare feathered visitor to the UK, in the form of an American bittern, helped raise the nature reserves profile even further nationally.

However, Matt informed us of the very short and highly ambitious timescale to get all this earth moving and construction work completed. The habitat creation is set to start this spring and aims to be completed in September 2019. Twenty two pieces of heavy plant including excavators and dumpers will be working on site to make this happen in less than eight months, and in April 2020 the new visitor centre is planned to open.

Once all of this inspirational development has come to fruition, Matt and Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s ambition, is to achieve National Nature reserve status for Carlton Marshes. We wish them all the best with this goal and we can’t wait come and visit!