Five generations of Bishops have looked after the natural wonder and wildlife on Cley Marshes. Rachel Buller finds out how this important work is very much a family affair.

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Winding along the North Norfolk coast road towards Cley, there can be few more uplifting sights than the sea glistening in the sunlight against the hazy blue sky, framed by the golden reed beds stretching down to the shingle beach.

Bernard Bishop has lived and breathed this landscape since he was a small boy, side by side with his father, helping with shooting parties and scavenging wood off the beach to make impromptu bridges across the channels in the reserve.

Like his great grandfather Robert and his father Billy before him, Bernard is warden of Cley Marshes Wildlife Reserve.

Now Bernard’s son, Kelvin, and nephew, Darren, also work regularly reed-cutting on the marshes and even his grandson, six-year-old Ben, gets out on the marsh as much as possible.

“I have been coming out on these marshes since I could walk. I could never retire. I could not imagine never being able to come out here every day. If my father could see my son and nephew out here still cutting the reed, looking after this place, it would warm his heart,” says Bernard with a smile.

“This is the biggest reed bed on the North Norfolk coast. We have to cut the commercial reed on a single whale – a one-year cycle – but the big areas of reed which aren’t commercial are burned on a five-year cycle. If not it dies and takes over and becomes unmanageable and not good for the wildlife.”

The reserve was bought by Norfolk Naturalist Trust – which became Norfolk Wildlife Trust – in 1926 to be held ‘in perpetuity as a bird breeding sanctuary’, making it the first wildlife trust reserve in the country and a blueprint for conservation.

Walking through the reed bed he talks proudly about his family’s love of the area.

To learn more about one family’s love affair with Cley Marshes see the EDP Sunday supplement in Saturday’s EDP.

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