Parts of a Norfolk nature reserve once open only to the sheep can be enjoyed by humans for the first time following the launch of two new trails.

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The East and Autumn trails at RSPB Titchwell Marsh wind their way through a new section of the reserve which has been created as part of a £1.5m project to bolster sea defences at the site.

What was once a grazing meadow has been transformed into a haven for birds and insects, with its water pools, developing reedbed, willow scrub and wild flower strips already providing a home to dozens of different species.

A series of guided tours along the paths began today (Saturday) to give visitors the chance to explore while gaining a better understanding of how the new area was created and how it will evolve.

“It is a fantastic opportunity to see how nature reserves are developed and managed from a very early stage,” said the RSPB’s Jasmine Atkinson.

“This is the first time in more than ten years that a new part of the reserve has been opened.

“The new trails will create fantastic bird watching opportunities with panoramic views across the current reedbed and new areas. The trails also provide the opportunity for stunning views of the harrier roost in the winter, which in previous years has seen more than 20 marsh harriers and two hen harriers.”

The reserve, once used as a firing range, was bought by the RSPB as a derelict salt marsh in the early 1970s and sea walls were built to protect it from the ravages of the sea.

Over time, the dunes began to erode and a £1.5m coastal change project began in 2009 to hold back the ever-nearing waves and to protect the wildlife-filled freshwater habitats from salt water contamination.

Adopting a ‘managed retreat’ approach, a new reinforced wall was built behind the brackish marsh and about a tenth of the reserve was allowed to return to salt marsh.

Some of the mud and other materials needed for the build were taken from the eastern part of the reserve, including the grazing meadow, leaving behind a large pool called Patsy’s Reedbed in the new area.

It is hoped the pool will fill with reeds over the next few years providing vital habitat for threatened wildlife including bitterns, bearded tits and water voles.

The surrounding scrub has been planted to provide a resting place for a migrant birds such warblers, flycatchers and winter thrushes throughout autumn and spring, while the wild flowers will attract butterflies, bees and bugs.

“In future we are planning to let people wander off the path and through the willow scrub if they see an insect, bird or flower that interests them. It’s going to be a bit more informal,” Miss Atkinson added.

The Autumn trail, to the far eastern side, will only be available between August 1 and October 31 so the marsh harriers are not disturbed during the winter and breeding times are not interrupted.

The guided walks continue tomorrow (Sunday) and will run until Thursday, October 25.

Places, costing £6 for adults and £4 for children, must be booked in advance.

Click on www.rspb.org for more information.

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