Its miles of waterways, atmospheric marshland and teeming wildlife have captivated generations of holidaymakers and locals alike.

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But the footprints and boat wash of every visitor inevitably have a progressive and detrimental effect on the sensitive landscape – and that is the starting point of a new “visitor payback” or “visitor giving” scheme that has been christened Love the Broads.

The initiative, modelled on a successful project in the Lake District, involves tourism businesses asking their customers for a purely voluntary donation on top of their bill.

Hire boat companies might ask for an extra £1 on the price of a holiday while cafés might levy an extra five pence on a cup of tea. Importantly, the donations have no impact on the tax paid by the businesses.

Proceeds will go to a new Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Charitable Trust, an independent registered charity, that will decide which projects the money will be spent on.

Ideas already in the melting pot include a sculpture trail at Strumpshaw Fen, signage for Broads cycling routes and a project to address the decline of the water vole population on the waterways.

An education project to run courses raising awareness of dragonflies and a barn owl conservation scheme have also been put forward for possible grant funding.

The scheme has been run as a trial by eight businesses since May and was officially launched earlier this week on the waterfront at Horning with supporters gathering in front of a giant heart which is the symbol of the campaign.

Nearly £30,000 of European Union STEP funding – promoting sustainable tourism in estuary parks – has been used to set up the scheme, but it is envisaged that it will run at a very low cost.

The project is the brainchild of Bruce Hanson, in charge of tourism at the Broads Authority, who first sowed the seeds of the idea in the Lake District, where fells were being damaged by hikers.

He said: “While I was living there I tried to set up a Lake District Trust. There was too much political opposition at the time but the idea was eventually taken up 18 years ago.

“Now called Nurture Lakeland, it has raised more than £2m over the years and has 280 businesses taking part.”

He said the idea had been copied in other areas around Britain, including a successful initiative in Cornwall.

“There, the Venus Beach café company levies 5p on a cup of tea from its 600,000 annual customers,” he said.

The businesses involved in the pilot on the Broads have been Norfolk Broads Direct, Broadland Cycle Hire, Richardson’s Group, Wroxham Barns, the Dairy Barns at Hickling, Clippesby Hall, Bank Boats at Wayford Bridge and Horning Ferry Marina.

Mr Hanson said the concept of businesses asking customers for a donation towards conservation and environmental improvement schemes had been an easy one to sell.

“Most businesses realise that a good deal of their prosperity relies on the quality of the environment in which they are operating,” he said.

That understanding was already reflected in the number of concerns which had signed up to the Broads Green Tourism Business Scheme.

He said: “Visitor payback connects the visitor with those who care for the place and the business can be at the heart of this conjunction.”

Existing schemes showed there was an extremely low opt out rate and visitors frequently paid two or three times a day – often unwittingly – on such items as cups of tea, boat tickets and meals.

Mr Hanson said: “The aim is to raise funds for protecting the environment, funding conservation, developing sustainable tourism and supporting education projects.

“I feel strongly the money should not be used to replace the existing statutory work of other agencies which have been affected by recent funding cuts.”

He stressed that although the Broads Authority was setting up the initiative, the money would be received and administered by the new charity which had a mix of trustees, including business people and Broads Society and Broads Authority appointees.

Tim Strudwick, site manager at the RSPB’s Strumpshaw Fen reserve near Norwich, said they had been looking at new ways to connect target groups with nature and building relationships with the local community and had developed the idea of a sculpture park.

He said: “We would love to develop a wildlife sculpture trail at Strumpshaw Fen using wood from fallen and felled trees around the reserve.

“The sculptures will be made from willow branches and carved from wood to represent the many different species living in the Broads.

“They will be placed in areas where visitors can find the species and will be designed to look as natural as possible.”

Mr Strudwick said a series of workshops and field trips would be built around the trail to teach young people about nature.

The Broads Bike Hire Association is making a bid to the scheme for route signage along the Broads by Bike network of 14 circular rides.

Nine routes explore the northern Broads and five run through the Waveney valley on the southern Broads.

Peter Howe, a trustee of Love the Broads, who runs Broadland Cycle Hire at Bewilderwood near Horning, said: “Currently, we do find a few people getting lost on the cycle routes we provide for them along quiet lanes.

“It would not be expensive to put up signs in the form of a specially designed logo and direction arrow that could be placed on existing signposts.”

The aim would be to increase the enjoyment for visitors and make the cycle routes more popular.

Mr Howe said he had found the pilot well received by customers with no one voicing strong opposition.

“We operated an opt-in scheme but found people were generally happy to make a small donation of £1,” he said.

“This summer has been difficult for our business because of the weather and there was a slow start, but we have still raised more than £200.”

Ruth Knight, a director at Horning Ferry Marina, said it was a “fantastic” idea to give visitors the chance to play an active part in preserving the Broads for future generations.

She said: “It will be great if the project can enhance the experience of the Broads for locals as well as holidaymakers. One way would be to put in new interpretation boards explaining the wildlife that can be seen. When you live here you don’t realise how special the area is.”

She said improvements to footpaths would also be good for the increasing number of walkers coming to the Broads.

Mrs Knight said: “During the pilot we asked anyone on holiday or taking a day boat for a £1 donation. On the whole it was very well received and people have even put more than £1 in.”

So far they had raised £500 but she was confident that a lot more money would be generated next year.

Hannah Deane, who runs Dairy Barns, a bed and breakfast and wedding venue in Hickling, said the response to the scheme had also been very good from her customers.

“I have been asking for a £1 donation, explaining it is purely optional, but the reception has been very positive. One guest this morning paid cash and gave me an extra £3 for the Broads scheme.

“The key thing is to find some really good projects going forward. What’s the money going on is always the next question I am asked.

“It would be great to see something tangible as soon as possible to keep the Broads as lovely as they are.”

She said not everyone who came to the Broads wanted to go out on a boat and she was in favour of schemes that improved land access to the water, such as boardwalks.

Love the Broads badges are being sold around the Broads to generate extra money.

Businesses that want to be involved in the scheme are invited to email bruce.hanson@broads-authority.gov.uk

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