The National Lottery grant will help fund an interactive classroom hide big enough to accommodate a full class of children, with signage boards to help them interpret what they are seeing and an exciting pond-dipping facility.
“We’re delighted that the HLF has recognised the importance of what we are doing – and we are thrilled that members of the public will soon be able to see what has been achieved,” said Mr Spowage. “It will be the first time in 10 years that we have been able to open up a new part of the 700-acre Pensthorpe Estate to visitors.”
“We are equally excited that it helps opens the door for us to create employment and work experience opportunities. We want to take on additional full-time wardens as well as recruit more volunteers.
“We are planning an immediate start on a large fully-accessible hide which can house a full class of schoolchildren. We want to bring skilled volunteers on board to help us design and build it. We also need people willing to be trained as pond-dipping specialists. Volunteers are a vital cog in the Pensthorpe machine and we need to start building up a database of helpers. We’d love to hear from anybody who would like to join our team.”
Over the past seven years, £700,000 of Catchment Restoration Fund grant money has financed a partnership between the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust to restore the Wensum, using 100 acres of additional land acquired by the estate.
Meanders previously removed for agricultural reasons have been reinstated. The river has been reconnected to its natural floodplain. Important watercourse features such as berms, riffles and gravel glides have been created. Four new reed beds, extending over 24 acres have been established and the area is helping support bird species under pressure elsewhere.
The Wensum is recognised as one of the most important chalk rivers in southern England and has been awarded Special Area of Conservation status – the only river in the East of England to receive the highest European designation. Within that, the Pensthorpe project is considered so special that parts of it are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
“It’s a wonderful habitat for wildlife, both plants and animals. It provides a fantastic spawning ground for fish of many different species, including an abundance of brown trout and is a natural setting for a variety of creatures such as water voles, otters, kingfishers, native crayfish, bullheads and brook lampreys – and rarities like the Desmoulin whirl snail,” said Mr Spowage. “The transformation has been phenomenal.”
The project also encompasses 24acres of wet woodland, a sustainable drainage system providing a natural filtration system via reeds and ponds for surface run-off, aquifer replenishment and wildflower meadows. The benefit to bird, reptile, insect and plant life is vast.
The restoration has been carried out away from public gaze. Until now.
Island on Old Squaw Lake Pensthorpe Natural Park have been landscaped to help establish reed fringes. Photo Credit Pensthorpe Conservation Trust
“The truly exciting thing is that the NationalLottery funding helps provide a window through which we will soon be able to share the fruits of our labours. Visitors will be able to enjoy state-of-the-art viewing facilities, within a carefully controlled setting,” said Mr Spowage.
“We want people to experience the real ‘wow’ factor this stretch of the Wensum has to offer. The beauty of this development is that we can achieve that without infringing on or damaging the sensitivity of the river environment.
“We are helping the ecology of this very special place to flourish while enabling both children and adults to understand why it is so important. At the same time we want them to have a memorable experience with lots of fun watching wildlife in the river and on its banks.”
The new grant-aided hide and pond-dipping amenities, situated near the reed beds, will be accessible to all visitors, including those with reduced mobility. It is hoped the hide will be ready for the summer holidays, although it will be next year before the pond-dipping facility had matured enough to use.
“We are determined this new public access area will be as much of a gem in the crown of our wetland nature reserve as the wildfowl scrape already is,” said Mr Spowage.
Robyn Llewellyn, Head of HLF East of England, said: “Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, we’re pleased to support these plans which will enable young people in particular to get hands on with the natural heritage of the River Wensum and the creatures that live within it.”
Pensthorpe Conservation Trust works closely with Pensthorpe Natural Park to showcase the importance of species and habitat conservation and provide a habitat for a wide range of wildlife to flourish. It has specific programmes to support cranes, corncrakes and turtle doves through its nationally-acclaimed Actively Saving Species project. PCT is also dedicated to reintroducing breeding populations of red squirrels across the country. More information on PCT projects can be found at www.pensthorpetrust.org.uk.
Pensthorpe Natural Park, near Fakenham in North Norfolk, is a 660-acre reserve combining stunning areas of wetland, gardens, meadows, farmland and a conservation centre. It is owned by Bill and Deb Jordan. Bill is the founder of Jordans breakfast cereals. Norfolk-born Deb oversees day-to-day management of the Park.
The Park provides a unique haven for some of the UK’s rarest and most endangered wildlife and attracts families, walkers, gardeners and bird spotters, all keen to see the beautiful surroundings and the very special selection of species that either live there permanently or migrate to the expansive wetland area throughout the year. Pensthorpe Natural Park also has nature-themed indoor and outdoor adventure play areas, designed to inspire and engage the next generation of nature lovers and conservationists.
Pensthorpe Natural Park from the air, with early-stage work on creating the new reed beds taking place in the foreground. Picture credit Pensthorpe Conservation Trust.