Suffolk celebrates the growth of nature tourism

Hit nature TV series – including David Attenborough’s hit show Wild Islands – may be among the factors fueling the trend.

The 2020-21 pandemic travel ban has given people the chance to rediscover the great beauty of the UK – including the coast of Suffolk and Norfolk and other parts of the counties where nature can still be found in abundance.

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Tourism bosses in the region say eco-friendly holidays are becoming increasingly popular.

“Ecotourism and sustainable, responsible tourism is a growing trend and we can see from our research that visitor economy businesses are keen to take advantage of this,” explained Pete Waters, chief executive of Visit East of England.

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The younger generation is using the power of annoyance to convince parents not to fly because of environmental concerns, he added.

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“We may see more stays from eco-friendly families who will want to vacation as sustainably as possible.”

The counties boast a number of natural assets – including a national park, three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and nature reserves and parks managed by the National Trust and Wildlife Trusts – which attract tourists looking for a peaceful escape.

During the pandemic, tourism bosses successfully promoted Suffolk and Norfolk as ‘Unexplored England’ – highlighting the benefits of mindfulness and a slower pace of life.

Later this year, Visit East of England will follow this with a new Placemaking brand – with a focus on sustainability, inclusion and accessibility. Protection and preservation of the environment will be a central theme.

“Businesses are picking up on this and providing more sustainable and eco-friendly packages from things like EV charging points to luggage transfers that encourage more cyclists,” Mr Waters said.

Many farmers are also looking to diversify by providing camping and glamping opportunities alongside their traditional businesses and this will increase the number of ecotourists.

A number of eco-friendly holiday businesses have already sprung up in East Anglia – and they see plenty of scope for growth in the sector.

These were supported by the effects of nature shows such as Wild Islands and their focus on the rich but threatened wildlife that can be found on our doorstep.

Wild East – an organization that seeks to “wild” the two intensively farmed counties through a voluntary coalition of nature-friendly farmers, landowners, households and businesses – is keen to see the rise of a tourism business that is in harmony with nature.

He sees this as one way to help create a patchwork of new natural wildernesses that will benefit wildlife while demonstrating that those who adhere to an ecological consciousness can thrive.

Lord Somerleyton – owner of Somerleyton Manor in north Suffolk and one of the founders of Wild East with Argus Hardy of Little Glemham, near Saxmondham – pioneered eco-tourism in the region.

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He is aiming to create a wildlife oasis around his Fritton Lake holiday cabin business and says post-Covid demand for greener holiday destinations has grown.

“We pursued ecotourism because as a farmer and co-founder of WildEast I am exercised by our collective duty to nature – so returning some of the land to nature in our case was the obvious first step,” he explained.

“I’m lucky that some of the poorest land on our farm is former desert – like the Dunwich AONB – the Suffolk Sandlings – it’s around Fritton Lake where we already have a developed tourism business,” he said.

They were developing an eco-food and tourism element to a “dream map” – based on one developed by a US charity – so eco-conscious visitors could easily navigate where to go, he said.

“Demand is there and increasing all the time,” he added.

Others who also believe ecotourism is the future are business partners Jonathan Lewis-Phillips and Alan Trivett.

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They launched Castle Wild Camp, a wildlife restoration project at Baconsthorpe near Holt in north Norfolk, which has transformed 45 acres of farmland into a wildlife sanctuary in a bid to halt the species’ dramatic decline. They leased the land from Thomas and Amelia Corto.

In the spring of 2023, five large arable fields were plowed for the last time and, with support from Natural England, will be allowed to return to “nature-filled wildflower meadows, woodlands, open meadows and heathland”, explained Mr Lewis-Phillips.

The site offers peaceful and family-friendly camping in private and secluded meadows surrounded by wildflowers and birdsong.

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Five farmland ponds have also been restored with the help of the Norfolk Ponds Project, and a permitted footpath leads to a castle, local pub and North Norfolk’s first beaver reintroduction project launched by the Norfolk Rivers Trust.

“The Wild Islands brilliantly showcased the amazing wildlife we ​​have in the UK, as well as the incredibly complex relationships between species that are completely dependent on each other,” said Mr Lewis-Phillips.

Birds and Bees family eco-camping at Rendham Hall, near Framlingham, was set up by farmers James and Emma Strachan.

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In 2016, James realized that the family’s low-intensity dairy operation of around 100 cows was no longer sustainable.

The family reluctantly decides to sell the cows and see what else can be done with the farm to cover overhead costs while remaining sustainable.

They opened their 16- to 17-site campground in the summer of 2017 on 10 of the farm’s 200 acres, and pretty soon they were fully booked.

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Cars are not allowed on the lawn and are instead parked in a sunken car park so they are ‘out of sight and out of mind’.

Solar panels heat water and provide electricity for the campsite and farm. They have also installed compostable long perches on the meadows.

They have also taken in a small flock of grazing sheep to improve soil health. They cultivate bird and nectar areas and a wide variety of flowering plants.

In North Walsham, farmers Luke and Louise Patterson set up Dilham Hall Retreats with the aim of capturing visitors looking for an outdoor break with a chance to ‘reconnect’.

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“Although demand for family farm ecotourism is limited, we wanted to show people how beautiful the farm is in a suitably sympathetic way,” explained Luke Patterson.

The business aims to be carbon negative, with a focus on conservation and sustainability.

The farm’s corn and rye crops supply a local anaerobic digestion (AD) plant – producing enough green energy to power 250 homes a year. Crops are fed with organic fertilizer.

The facility is busy year-round, they said — even during the winter months, when the vacation pods are used by people who want to escape to nature and enjoy a hot tub under the stars surrounded by wildlife.

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