Sweet Briar Marshes FAQs

 What is the appeal for?

The appeal is to purchase Sweet Briar Marshes in Norwich from Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and to begin a “Discovery phase” ahead of creating a new flagship nature reserve for Norwich

What is for sale?

Located in central Norwich, Sweet Briar Marshes is 36.6 hectares/90 acres of fen, rough meadow, grazing marsh, old hedgerows, pools and young woodland. This mosaic of habitats, unusually for a city centre, was arable farmland until as recently as the late 1990s, and today provides a treasure trove of nature, wildness and peace.

There is an extensive network of shallow ditches and foot-drains. Although the two sections are divided by the A140, the ditch network is connected under the A140.

The eastern section comprises:
  • Sweet Briar Road Meadows Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) - 9.5ha
  • Mile Cross Meadows County Wildlife Site - 4.5ha
The western section comprises:
  • Hellesdon Pastures County Wildlife Site – 23ha

Public rights of way run along the north side (Marriott’s Way) and part of the south side alongside the River Wensum.

Why is the site important?

Sweetbriar Marshes is significant in its scale (36.6 hectares/90 acres) in Norwich, the largest urban centre in Norfolk. 
Much of this land is designated in recognition of its value for wildlife, by Natural England as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and by Norfolk Wildlife Trust as a County Wildlife Site (CWS). 
The site is bordered by the River Wensum, the largest chalk-fed river in Norfolk.  In its wider context, the site is part of a near continuous chain of wildlife-rich habitats running along the Wensum River valley corridor – making it the city’s most important highway for nature.

It is particularly unusual for a site of this quality and size to remain within an urban area and still be subject to regular winter flooding, supporting wildlife and acting as a sponge to protect local residential areas.

Our urban wildlife is increasingly under threat from our impact, and nature exists in smaller and smaller disconnected pockets of wildness. A flagship urban nature reserve of this scale will give wildlife in Norwich – including many species of conservation concern – a better chance to survive and thrive. 

Now, more than ever, we also recognise the importance of nature to our own wellbeing. A healthier, wilder, and more accessible Sweet Briar Marshes will provide local communities with a valuable connection to the natural world. Just as an example, with 40 schools within two miles of the site, local children will have the opportunity to be healthier and better connected to nature too.

Which species benefit from the site?

The Marshes are home to significant species of conservation concern. The main botanical interest lies in the wet grassland and associated ditches which support a number of plant species that are rare or scarce in Norfolk, including small water-pepper, tasteless water-pepper, tubular water-dropwort and lesser marshwort. There are large numbers of southern marsh orchid as well as early marsh orchid and common spotted orchid is abundant in the dry grassland. 
Both water vole and water shrew occur on the site along with regular, recent sightings of otter. The ephemeral pools contain a substantial common toad and frog population. Breeding bird interest includes 10 species of conservation concern including reed bunting. Snipe has bred until relatively recently and a number of other wetland species are known to breed nearby.

What is the threat to wildlife if NWT do not take the land into our care?

Sweet Briar Marshes is a home for rare and vulnerable species of wildlife. In recognition of this, parts of the site are already designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and recognised as County Wildlife Sites. 

Natural England’s SSSI site condition monitoring assessed the site as ‘unfavourable – recovering’. Issues highlighted include the need to improve water quality through appropriate conservation management.

Unsympathetic management has led to the spread of invasive vegetation in the floodplain and scrub areas, and woodland development throughout the site is of particular concern on the SSSI grassland areas. 

However, there is significant opportunity to improve habitats and biodiversity on the site.

NWT, with the encouragement of local community groups, was compelled to step in and approach Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to intervene.  The land was in danger of being purchased by more than one buyer and sub-divided further for use as pony paddocks and increased non-conservation led grazing. The danger of increased deterioration of the site is very real unless NWT purchases the site and brings it into its care.

The sale and purchase by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation 

Having been put up for sale on the open market in early 2021, NWT was able to secure the intervention of Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, which purchased the land on our behalf in January 2022.  

This gives us limited time to raise the funds and bring the land under our protection.

We have 22 months to buy the land from Esmée Fairbairn Foundation otherwise it returns to the open market. We want to buy the land as soon as possible, ideally by December 2022, to allow us to start our ‘Discovery phase’ and plan for restoration and community involvement.

By buying the land sooner, we also help Esmée Fairbairn Foundation use the repayment to fund another urgent acquisition by The Wildlife Trusts elsewhere in the UK.

What is NWT’s vision for the site?

NWT wants to establish a wilder Norwich for all.  Sweet Briar Marshes, given its proximity to Norwich, gives a great opportunity to protect urban wildlife at scale, improve conservation connectivity along the Wensum River corridor, and bring urban communities closer to nature.

Is this just for Norwich residents?

No. Our members and the many visitors to Norwich will also be able to access the nature reserve when Sweet Briar Marshes is opened to the public. This is a wilder Norwich for all.

How much is the appeal for?

£600,000.  However, we have amazing support from Aviva which is matching the appeal pound for pound up to £300,000.

What is the cost of the land and how is the rest being spent?

The land will cost £370,000.

The remaining £230,000 will allow us to plan out the best care for the site and the involvement of people.  This will include surveying, monitoring species, engaging with communities and mapping habitats and access opportunities.
Ultimately this “Discovery phase” funding will allow us to establish the blueprint to create a new nature reserve for Norwich and an urban flagship site for Norfolk Wildlife Trust.

Does Aviva’s contribution mean that it will have a stake in ownership or control of the site?

Aviva are long-term supporters of NWT, and provide financial contributions in a number of ways for purely charitable reasons. They have recently announced the ‘Aviva Sustainability Vision’ for their corporate strategy, and NWT’s plans at Sweet Briar Marshes are seen as a practical way that they can follow this, in the county where 5,000 Aviva staff live and work. NWT are very grateful for Aviva’s generous support, given in return for no title, ownership or influence over the management of the site. 

Can I just donate to the land acquisition?

Yes, all donations are very welcome.  Please just let us know that this is your wish when you donate online, by phone or using forms.

How can I help?


People can donate in person, online, over the phone or using an appeal form:

In person: At any NWT Visitor Centre
Online: Visit www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/appeal
By phone: 01603 625540

As well as donating, we will want volunteers for our Discovery phase.  You can sign up by emailing [email protected] and we will be in touch once the land is secured.

When will I be able to visit Sweet Briar Marshes?

Once we have met our appeal target and secured the land, we will begin a ‘Discovery phase’ which will include planning public access to Sweet Briar Marshes in consultation with the local community.  This will allow us time to consider the best access routes that protect the tranquillity of the site for wildlife whilst still providing people with a vital connection to nature. We anticipate that this Discovery phase will run during 2023.  In the meantime you can view the site from Marriott’s Way.

Will it cost money to visit Sweet Briar Marshes?

This nature reserve will be free to visit when it opens to the public.  

To help us manage and care for the site, NWT will continue to seek support e.g. through membership and donations.