Fundraising appeal launched for flagship nature reserve in Norwich


Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) has signalled its ambition to create a brand-new nature reserve for Norwich, launching a public appeal to raise the funds to make the vision a reality.

Supported by Aviva, which has pledged up to £300,000 in match funding, NWT hopes to purchase Sweet Briar Marshes – a 36-ha site which runs along the River Wensum close to the city centre.

Sweet Briar Marshes, which was arable farmland until as recently as the late 1990s, today provides a haven for wildlife in the Norwich area. It is a mosaic of fen, rough meadow, grazing marsh, old hedgerows and young woodland, and is home to wildlife including Water Vole, Water Shrew, Common Snipe and various orchids.

Sweet Briar Marshes supports a range of habitats, including fen, rough meadow and grazing marsh (Richard Osbourne / NWT).

Increasingly surrounded by urban development, this special wild place, which includes a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), is in danger of deterioration and fragmentation, and could be lost as a vital home for wildlife.

When the site came up for sale, NWT saw an opportunity to create a flagship nature reserve for the city, its wildlife and residents. The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, which aims to improve the natural world and strengthen communities across the UK, intervened to support NWT and purchased the land earlier in 2022, giving NWT the opportunity to buy it back if it can raise the funds needed.

Patrick Barkham, NWT President, said: "Imagine stepping into a secret wild marsh in the heart of Norwich. A place where kingfishers whistle, Water Voles swim and orchids bloom. A place of tranquillity for people too, where city children – and adults - can connect with nature. This is not a dream – Sweet Briar Marshes is a miraculous treasure – but we need your help to save it."

Eliot Lyne, NWT CEO, added: "We are inviting people to come together to create a wilder Norwich for all.

"Urban wildlife is increasingly under threat from human impact, and nature exists in smaller and smaller disconnected pockets of wildness. A flagship urban nature reserve of this scale will act as a vital stepping stone for wildlife in an otherwise urban landscape, giving wildlife in Norwich a better chance to survive and thrive.

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"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, and with 40 schools within two miles of the site, local children will grow up happier, healthier, and better connected to nature too.

"We are incredibly grateful to Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Aviva for sharing our vision for the future of Sweet Briar, and its value to the wildlife and people of Norwich."

Water Vole is one of the threatened species found at Sweet Briar Marshes (Terry Whittaker / NWT).

Sweet Briar Marshes has been long valued by the local community, which has been campaigning for many years to save the site.

Lucy Galvin, chair of Marlpit Community Centre, said: "When we found out the land was up for sale we started a community campaign to make sure it was protected from development and restored for nature. We talked with the Wildlife Trust and we are beyond delighted that it has responded and stepped up with this bold move, to save this incredible wilderness which is treasured by local people."

Liam Calvert, chair of Wensum Residents Association, added: "Open spaces are of vital importance to the physical and mental wellbeing of residents in our area and a wild area away from the pressures of the city, right on our doorstep, will be an incredible asset."

All donations are welcome. You can contribute to the appeal by visiting norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/appeal, calling 01603 625540 or donating in person at an NWT visitor centre.