Opening details for city's new 90-acre urban nature reserve revealed

Liam Calvert, Lucy Galvin, Karen Paterson and Eliot Lyne at Sweet Briar Marshes after its investment 

Liam Calvert, Lucy Galvin, Karen Paterson and Eliot Lyne at Sweet Briar Marshes after its investment - Credit: Richard Osbourne

A wildlife haven tucked away in the heart of the city may soon open to the public for the very first time - but only to those travelling by boat, bike and board. 

The Sweet Briar Marshes have recently been snapped up by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust following an investment scheme of £600,000 which was launched by a community campaign.

Home to a rare and vulnerable species of wildlife, parts of the area of disused farmland have been designated under Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Despite it being early days in the wetland's development a vision has been revealed as to how the secret oasis might be accessed not only by those with wings or fins but by those on two legs as well. 

Lucy Galvin, convenor of the Sweet Briar community campaign, said: "There is no public access at the moment but we are at the beginning of a very careful process of discovery for this absolute treasure.

Lucy Galvin and Liam Calvert, convenors of the Sweet Briar community campaign

Lucy Galvin and Liam Calvert, convenors of the Sweet Briar community campaign - Credit: Richard Osbourne

"Sweet Briar Marshes is linked by the Wensum which borders it on three sides so it is an incredible natural corridor." 

As well as the River Wensum, the 90-acre green space is flanked by Marriott's Way.

This means the wildlife gem could be made accessible to cyclists and walkers as well as those stopping or launching craft on to the river.

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Liam Calvert, a convenor of the Sweet Briar community campaign and chairman of the Wensum Residents' Association said: "There is some thought on the degree of public access to work out which parts of the site will be used.

"There are lots of opportunities for cycling and walking. People can also go past on canoes and paddleboards so it is exciting.

"We are looking to get locals involved and it's going to be well-used."

It is understood the Norfolk Wildlife Trust will be conducting a public consultation to garner views on how people want the space to be used now the investment has been secured.

Sweet Briar Marshes 

Sweet Briar Marshes - Credit: Richard Osbourne

Although the unexpected speed of the public fundraising means it is too early to finalise plans for any classrooms or learning centres, a spokeswoman for the Norfolk Wildlife Trust said it is likely schools will be connected to the site.

She said: "There are something like 40 schools within two kilometres of the site so it is an absolute priority to connect them.

"We are starting a discovery phase to find out what the need is. We want to not only protect wildlife but also allow people to enjoy it."

A map showing Sweet Briar Marshes 

A map showing Sweet Briar Marshes - Credit: Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Norwich ecologist and nature writer Kate Blincoe said: "This will connect up other areas of green space which is great for recreation and access.

"The Norfolk Wildlife Trust's role means it will be protected and enhanced for biodiversity and will function as part of a wider network of habitats.

"This is a win-win for people and nature." 

Kate Blincoe and children (photo: Phil Barnes)

Kate Blincoe and children (photo: Phil Barnes) - Credit: Archant

She added that the success of the public appeal brings her a sense of hope that people really do care about wildlife and natural habitats.

It comes amid a struggle to protect the Grade II-listed Deer Park in Old Catton which is home to a variety of wildlife from being turned into homes after being purchased by Devlin Developments.

Such fears have been completely erased over Sweet Briar Marshes suffering a potentially similar fate. 

An otter in Sweet Briar Marshes 

An otter in Sweet Briar Marshes - Credit: Mike Dawson

Mrs Galvin said: "In practice the land is very wet and does not have permission to be built on but you can never be sure what would happen.

"It needed to be in the right hands and that was expert hands like the Wildlife Trust. It is very rare to have such a large fragment in a city like that which is untouched. 

"The city has now got Mousehold Heath - an amazing heathland habitat - and this amazing wetland. Not many cities get that.

"I am absolutely delighted. This started as a community campaign when it was up for sale and it generated a lot of support."

Sweet Briar Marshes - Credit: Richard Osbourne

The land was bought in January by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, which agreed to hold the land for two years to give Norfolk Wildlife Trust time to raise the funds to buy it.