Norfolk Wildlife Trust turns 90

“When one considers the changes in the face of the county that are being made or are being contemplated by Forestry Commissioners, Drainage Boards, speculative builders and the like, one is anxious to preserve for future generations areas of marsh, heath, woods and undrained fenland (of which there still remain a few acres in the county) with their natural wealth of flora and fauna.”

Words as pertinent today as they were when they were published in the Eastern Daily Press in 1926. The article, from where the quote is taken, was written in November of that year by Dr Sydney Long in relation to the formation of the Norfolk Naturalists Trust.


Water vole feeding – Neil Calbrade


In March of that year, Dr Long and a group of colleagues had made a land purchase that today is not only the Trusts oldest reserve, but a mecca for wildlife and wildlife enthusiasts alike. That land was the fabled Cley Marshes and its purchase was the first step on a road that was to lead to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust.

For the protection of natural beauty

Nineteen-twenty-six was notable for other events such as: the first publication of the Winnie the Pooh books; the first time the Grand Prix was held in Britain, the first trans-Atlantic phone call; and the birth of Sir David Attenborough. However, if you are at all interested in wildlife, the formation of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and of Cley as a protected reserve is probably your highlight – tied maybe with the arrival of Attenborough!


Eurasian spoonbill – Andreas Trepte under CC license


Dr Long established the Norfolk Naturalist Trust, on 6th November 1926, with a vision not just to protect Cley, but to conserve other wild places for nature. This is evidenced by the following extracts from the Trusts Memorandum of Association (MoA) published at the time:

“To protect places and objects of natural beauty or of ornithological, botanical, geological or scientific interest from injury, ill-treatment or destruction.”

“To establish, form, own and maintain, sanctuaries or reserves for the preservation of birds or other animals, or for plants.”

Early purple orchid – © Luke Delve

It was also stated in the memorandum that; the Trust would have no more than 100 members. Today the Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT), as the Norfolk Naturalist Trust was re-named in 1994, has over 35,000 members. I am sure this is a development Dr Long would approve of.

Read the NWT’s MoA today and you are left in no doubt that Dr Long’s vision is still being nurtured by equally passionate individuals. It lists its objectives as being:

i)  to advance the conservation of wildlife and wild places in Norfolk for the public benefit; and

ii) to advance the education of the public in the principles and practices of sustainable development.

Brendan Joyce, Chief Executive for the last 20 years is clearly still influenced by Dr Long and his colleagues, as is evident in this quote taken from a recent interview for ‘Wild and Wonderful Norfolk’ published by the Eastern Daily Press “This group of men were not afraid to take big risks to achieve their goals. I feel passionately that NWT should always push on and never rest on its laurels”

From such humble beginnings

There certainly has been no resting on laurels over the past 90 years. The NWT now owns or cares for over 50 nature reserves and other protected sites encompassing wetland, heathland, woodland and coastal habitats. It is currently (Nov 2016) running a campaign to raise £1m to secure the future of Hickling Broad, the largest Broad in the Norfolk & Suffolk Broads network, which was purchased earlier this year.


Hickling Broad – Andrew Watson under CC license


Hickling has been part owned by the NWT and the Mills family since 1945. It is a credit to the NWT that the family were so keen for it to own the land. As current estate owner, Hallam Mills said, “The Hickling estate has been in my family for 200 years and during that time this lovely Broad has survived in fine style, despite the pressures of the modern world.  The family is delighted that, out of many expressions of interest, the Broad is going to Norfolk Wildlife Trust, who in many ways were the Broad’s natural owner.  The wildlife and conservation interest of the reserve will be very safe in their hands.”

Emphasising the importance of the purchase, Brendan Joyce states, “When the estate went up for sale, it was inevitable that there would be a lot of interest given its position at the heart of the Broads.  Hickling is one of the best wildlife sites in the UK and, given our longstanding involvement in its management, we knew we had to push the boat out and do everything possible to secure its future.” It is this ethos that ensures that the future of Norfolk’s wildlife will continue to thrive.


White-tailed bumblebee – © Friends of the Earth

Caring for Norfolk’s spectacular wildlife

Through its continuing conservation work the NWT has created a large diversity of habitats resulting in the survival and in some cases re-colonisation, of some very special species. Over the last year NWT’s Nick Acheson has introduced nine of these species in his ‘9 for 90’ series published in the Eastern Daily Press. Look through this list of charismatic species and you will get and insight into the excellent work of the NWT and why people flock to Norfolk to view its spectacular wildlife.


Swallowtail butterfly: the British sub-species is thriving in the Norfolk marshes and nowhere else thanks to careful management and restoration of their habitat.

Common crane: back from national extinction, its numbers are now growing and its range increasing.

Spoonbill: after a long absence, they started to appear regularly at Cley Marshes during spring and summer for many years and finally started breeding again in Holkham in 2010.

Early purple orchid: reverting to traditional woodland management has enabled this and many other species of flora to flourish.

Barbastelle bat – C. Robiller under CC Licence

Nightjar: painstaking restoration of the counties heathland has helped them establish a stronghold in Norfolk.

Stone curlew: bringing the Brecks back to their former glory has facilitated the recovery of this species from a sharp decline in the twentieth century.

Water vole: creating new reserves and recreating lost habitat have played a large part in assisting this nationally threatened species to hold their own in Norfolk.

Barbastelle bat: listed as near threatened on the Red List of Endangered Species, NWT’s the Claylands Living Landscape is a Norfolk stronghold for this enigmatic bat.

White-tailed bumblebee: educating people in urban areas about the importance and benefits of having a wildlife friendly garden has both created extended habitats for invertebrates and opened their eyes to a fascinating world right on their doorstep.  

All of these species and many more, have benefited from a single decision 90 years ago. It is thanks to Dr Sydney Long that we can celebrate the anniversary of a wonderful organisation that makes Norfolk one of the finest places in the world to see nature.


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