Thursday, 12 March 2015

My Norfolk Love Affair

Ben Garrod, NWT Ambassador  

Whoever said the cliché 'it's better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all' obviously never saw some of my past relationships, where 'it's better to keep well clear rather than get into that emotional train wreck' would have been far more appropriate. We've all been there though, haven't we. But there's one love affair in my life that has never let me down and (I'm happy to say) is still going strong. My love affair with Norfolk. We've had our ups and downs and we've even split up a few times but we always come back together. I'll admit she can seem a bit frosty at times and at least once or twice, I've commented that's she's a bit distant but I love her nonetheless. Because she has a wild side. 

I've lived in a lot of different places, around the world and in the UK, but Norfolk is different. Maybe because I'm from here or maybe it just has a combination of things I've not found elsewhere but nowhere else makes me feel as Norfolk does. I've lost count of the number of times I've chatted with someone and they've come out with the line 'oh aren't there such big skies in Norfolk'. For years, I didn't really understand but it was only after I'd been gone for a few years and had returned that I finally saw what they meant. With such a low-lying, flat land, and few trees to punctuate the horizon, there just seems to be that bit more sky than you would usually expect to see. It makes for an impressive and inspiring place.

Bearded tits, photo by Steve Bond
We share this seemingly desolate and windswept county with a staggering horde of flora and fauna: from bluebell-strewn spring forest floors, to the elegant courtship displays of great crested grebes on the Broads, there's something for anyone wanting to fall in love with nature in Norfolk. I went for a 'little walk' once when I was home visiting my family. I wanted to clear my head. I ended up being gone for three days, walked from Yarmouth to Norwich and only saw a handful of people. I slept in fields and spent my days watching marsh harriers and herons, finding beautiful orchids in endless stretches of flowering meadows. I spied on squabbling bearded tits for hours and walked through a field with a scarred old Chinese water deer. 

Norfolk does that to you. It allows you to get lost. Lost in nature and lost in yourself. There are places where you can find tens of thousands of crows gather together, darkening the reddening evening sky; or where grey seal bulls trade blood-soaked blows with each other to rule the beach. Terns visit in their droves; weary travellers from around the world, to breed on our coast, and some sand dunes come alive with snakes, basking amongst the heather in the mid-summer sun. All in Norfolk.  

Growing up in Norfolk, my parents ran pubs in Yarmouth, so I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, either going on long drives in the country or even longer walks on the beach. One granddad in particular taught me to look at the world around me and to think of the interactions we have with the natural world. He was also an irrepressible story-teller, who made up fantastic (if not wholly true) answers to my constant questions about where worms come from, or how fish swim. It was that engagement at such a young age which not only inspired me to love nature but also instilled that desire to protect it. Now, as both an evolutionary biologist and a conservationist, I know that worms don’t come from the moon and that fish don’t hold their breath under water but I’ve still kept that passion to learn and that desire to protect the nature I see around me. 

Now I’m in a position where I can strengthen my connection to Norfolk that little bit further by becoming the Ambassador for Norfolk Wildlife Trust. I’m so happy to hold this position because the natural world needs people to champion it. To help show others that it’s not only fascinating and fun but that it’s also fragile and fleeting. If I can help one person fall in love with nature in that way that I did, then I’ll consider my work a success. If I can help nurture that in more people, well then that’s just a bonus. Representing a county such as Norfolk makes my task that so much easier, as I can’t see who wouldn’t love her and her wildlife already.    

NWT Holme Dunes, photo by Richard Osbourne
You don't need to travel to distant jungles or tropical beaches to see how beautiful or inspiring nature is. Whether it's humpback whales off our shores or sticklebacks in our streams, we have nature great and small; if the melodic song of the skylark overhead doesn't make your spirit soar then maybe the rasping call of the natterjack toad will brighten your mood; if staking out a marsh-side hide to glimpse an elusive bittern appeals less than watching that tame little robin at your garden bird table, Norfolk has something for everyone. That's why I love her. She never lets me down. There's always a favourite beach to visit or a new forest to explore, a beautiful meadow that I can watch change across the seasons or a bit of the Broads I'm yet to see. I love you, Norfolk. I love your breath-taking beauty, your irresistible charm and of course your untamed wild side.   

Discover Norfolk’s wildlife for yourself! Start exploring at 

1 comment:

  1. That is a fantastic blog and sums up Norfolk just as I see it. You couldn't have said it better. You can get so lost in yourself, doesn't matter whether it's on the beach or in a wood or on an old Roman track, it takes you away into a world of peace and quiet and reflective thought - that is Norfolk.