Tuesday, 20 August 2013


Barry Madden, Volunteer Bird Guide at NWT Cley Marshes

So why would you fall in love with a particular place? What makes it so special? Why must it be cherished and looked after? 

Well, the answers to these questions and many others will be available for all to see and hear at the Forum in Norwich next month. Between 16 and 28 September there will be an opportunity to experience some of the sights and sounds of NWT Cley Marshes at a special exhibition in the Fusion Digital Gallery. A representative of the Forum Trust was at the site last week filming people to record their input for what promises to be a very evocative and interesting event. As I watched, I wondered how I would answer the question ‘Why is Cley so special?’

Curlews, photo by Barry Madden
It could be the amazing wildlife that abounds everywhere you look. Take today, when every patch of wild flowers had scores of bees collecting pollen, colourful butterflies and beetles probing for nectar whilst dragonflies darted through the air above hunting small flying insects or defending their territories. I was lucky enough to catch sight of a migrant clouded yellow butterfly as it purposefully flitted past me and parties of migrant whimbrel, curlew and sandpipers whistled, piped and trilled their way across a perfect blue summer sky.

It could indeed be those wide, open Norfolk skies that excite; dwarfing you and making you feel quite humble whilst amplifying the sense of space and light. Powerful cloudscapes frequently add a sense of drama, before multi-hued sunsets serve to soften the landscape and bring calm to a stormy day. Gentle breezes murmuring through the reed beds can have a soporific effect, but northerly gales churn the cruel North Sea into a multi-coloured maelstrom. Through it all the wildlife and people endure. No two days are the same.

Cley Beach in summer, photo by Barry Madden
And then there are the people. From hardy fishermen bobbing around on their tiny boats to winter reed cutters, from the groups of young students studying coastal erosion to the entrepreneurial guy who sets up his mobile café from the back of his van - all are woven into the fabric of this wild place. There are farmers, wildfowlers, birdwatchers, dog walkers, sun bathers, ramblers, photographers, shopkeepers, artists, and ice cream sellers. All have their part to play in this intricately entwined Living Landscape. And there is room for all; room for wildlife and people to flourish as long as the sanctity of the entire ecosystem is respected.

But personally I think it is the amalgam of all these things that makes Cley Marshes so special. It is only 20 or so miles from a large city, but take an early morning walk along the beach and you are a world away from all that hustle and bustle. Luckily it’s going to get better for both people and wildlife. Norfolk Wildlife Trust has great vision for the future of the site with both the acquisition of Pope’s Marsh, significantly extending the area under direct conservation management, and the development of the Visitor Centre to include a wonderful educational facility. These plans are still subject to securing the appropriate funding and planning approvals, but should they come to fruition will greatly enhance the Cley experience. 

So, why not pop along to the Forum next month and experience something of the magic for yourself. The event is free and will be most informative. Better still pay a visit to the reserve and immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of one of the best of Norfolk’s wildlife experiences. 

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