Think of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s assets and wonderful beaches, broads, heaths, woodland and marshes come to mind. There’s something else, however, that I have come to appreciate in the last few weeks. I have visited all five visitor centres run by the Trust and found them to be hubs of information and inspiration – and great places for a coffee and a bite to eat.
We are passionate about everything we do in terms of working with the public
I am volunteering for NWT one day a week for six months on a secondment from my employer, John Lewis, using my journalistic experience to help promote the work of the Trust. My first assignment has been to visit all Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserves with visitor centres – Cley Marshes
, Holme Dunes
, Hickling Broad
, Ranworth Broad
and Weeting Heath
– taking pictures of the facilities and the activities they run. It is a list I suspect that even some long-standing members of the Trust haven’t ticked off but I can tell you it is worth paying them a visit.
The Trust has invested in all the centres, creating attractive places to visit, whether it be for a bit of retail therapy, a snack or to get the local knowledge of staff and volunteers about what can be found on the reserve. Without exception, I found them to be hugely helpful and enthusiastic. Typical is Diane Ridgley, who volunteers two days a week at NWT Weeting Heath. She told me: “It is really nice being here because it means I spend the day with people who are as enthusiastic as me about nature in all its glory.”
NWT Cley Marshes is the jewel in the crown, with a visitor centre which has a large shop and cafe and fantastic views out over the reserve. The cafe is an attraction in its own right, serving delicious meals as well as tea, coffee and snacks. There is also a wildlife education centre
on the site, an art gallery and Cley also has an extensive programme of events for wildlife enthusiasts and also for families. Cley Marshes Visitor Centre Manager Ewan Carr says: “We are passionate about everything we do in terms of working with the public and, although it is a cliché, it is very important to engage the next generation. We have people who are loyal visitors, which is great, but we also want to enthuse children to get them visiting in the years to come.”
And what a huge variety of events
I have seen over the past few weeks around the reserves to nurture wildlife awareness in young people, including pond and sea-dipping, seeing moths released from traps, making bird boxes and finding ‘minibeasts’ on a bug hunt in the grass. It has also been heartening to see how attention has been paid to making the centres accessible to visitors in wheelchairs or families with pushchairs, complemented by boardwalks on the reserves giving access to as many people as possible.