A Norfolk nature reserve is celebrating a £37,600 grant which could unlock much larger funding awards later this year for a project to celebrate the unique biodiversity of the county’s northern coastline.

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Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) has received the initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to develop its Cley and Salthouse: A Living Coast project.

The project combines the trust’s £1m appeal to buy 143 acres of land to extend its Cley Marshes reserve, with a further £1.5m project to build a new wildlife education centre in memory of naturalist Simon Aspinall.

The £1m Cley land purchase appeal has become the trust’s most successful ever, with £270,000 raised or donated so far.

But the development funding of £37,600 could be pivotal in achieving the overall investment ambitions, as it has been awarded to help progress plans to bid for a major £1.5m lottery award, expected to be submitted in May.

The “first-round pass” means the project meets HLF criteria for funding and, as the application was in competition with other supportable projects, the award is seen as an endorsement of the outline proposals.

The money will be used to create essential building surveys, reports and land management plans to give the trust the best possible chance of securing the full grant later this year.

NWT chief executive Brendan Joyce said: “We are delighted to have support from HLF for our new project. The Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre will meet an existing and growing demand for opportunities for people of all ages - schools, community groups and visitors to the nature reserve – to learn about the North Norfolk Coast, one of the UK’s most important coastal and marine environments.

“We are extremely grateful for the response from our membership and the public to our land purchase appeal, and the total donated now exceeds £270,000. If we are successful next year, the grant of over £1.5m from HLF will make a significant contribution to achieving our ultimate total of £2.5m. We still need people to support us by donating whatever they can, whether they want to put it towards the land purchase, the building of the centre or across the whole project as this will help to give us the match funding we will need to unlock the HLF grant if we are successful.”

The marshes, reed beds and saline lagoons around Cley and Salthouse are recognised among the best birding sites in the country, with breeding birds including the avocet, marsh harrier, and bearded tit. The area is also internationally renowned as a flyway for thousands of wintering, migrating and breeding wildfowl and waders.

If successful, the trust’s Cley Marshes Land Purchase Appeal would complete an unbroken 8km of coastal nature reserves, stretching from Blakeney Point to Salthouse Marshes.

Robyn Llewellyn, head of the HLF for the East of England, said: “We’re extremely pleased to give initial support to this project.

“The Salthouse Marshes on the north Norfolk coast is an exceptionally important area of coastline, which this conservation plan and visitor centre will help bring to life for the local community and visitors alike. We shall watch the developing plans with interest.”

How to donate to the Cley Marshes land purchase appeal:

-Online: www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/appeal

-Credit Cards: Call 01603 625540

-Text: CLEY12 + the amount (£) to 70070

-Visit: NWT Cley Marshes visitor centre and donate directly

-Post: Send to Cley Marshes Land Purchase Appeal, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Freepost ANG20591, Bewick House, 22 Thorpe Road, Norwich, Norfolk NR1 1ZW.

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