Farm attractions eager to open gates for post-lockdown visitor boom
- Credit: Denise Bradley
After months in the financial wilderness, Norfolk's farm-based attractions expect thousands of eager visitors to flock back through their gates when they re-emerge from lockdown next week.
Outdoor attractions and self-contained holiday units are among the businesses which can reopen on April 12 as part of the latest step of the government's roadmap out of Covid-19 restrictions.
It is long-awaited relief for rural enterprises which have lost vital visitor revenue, while needing to continue the expense of maintaining grounds and caring for animals.
But with bookings rocketing due to pent-up demand, they hope Monday's lockdown easing will usher in a profitable period of bumper takings.
Daniel Holliday, livestock manager at Church Farm Rare Breeds Centre at Stow Bardolph near Downham Market, said some of his animals, including a new crop of spring lambs, were looking forward to the return of visitors just as much as the staff were.
"The animals are definitely looking forward to people coming back," he said. "We have got some animals like Herbie the shire horse, who really misses people - he loves watching the kids playing over his fence.
"And the piglets have become noticeably more 'wild' because they are not getting the attention and fuss that they are used to from the children."
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Mr Holliday said lockdown had been a difficult time for the park, with shop and cafe staff furloughed and others working part-time to care for animals during what should have been their busiest times of the year.
"We have missed two Easter holidays, and we usually have 1,000 people a day during the Easter weekend, so financially we have missed out a lot," he said.
"A lot of other businesses can just close the doors and turn the lights off, but we still have to care for the animals.
"We have just gone through lambing, which is expensive because of vet call-outs and we need double the food for the ewes so they can feed their babies. There are lots of overheads and we have not had anything coming in.
"It has been tough, no doubt about it. We have been shut for seven months out of the last 12 but when we came back after the first lockdown all our regular visitors came back, so we are very confident we have got a good attraction here.
"It is a nice outdoor space, so we hope people will feel safe and enjoy it."
Trevor Walters runs Snettisham Park, set within a 329-acre working farm in west Norfolk, which is preparing a socially-distanced version of its red deer safari, with seating capacity halved on its outward-facing open-sided tractor trailer ride, which now needs to be booked by telephone in advance.
He said there had been unprecedented demand for season tickets ahead of the park's re-opening.
"There are a lot of people desperate to come out and enjoy some fresh air and the countryside," he said. "Last Thursday (April 1) we opened the telephone lines to sell discounted season tickets and we sold 50 in three hours. We were back on the telephones on Tuesday and sold at least 50 each day, so the demand for season tickets is huge.
"We are excited to welcome the public back. We have a barn full of baby lambs and they will be out in the fields for the public to enjoy. The deer safari is relatively easy to socially distance, so we are able to offer that, but our hands-on animal activities indoors will not be able to commence until May 17. It is something to look forward to."
Mr Walters also thanked King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council for its help in accessing the government's Covid relief funds, adding: "That has been a lifesaver. Without that, we would not be here."
Another popular farm diversification which can re-open from Monday is self-catering holiday lets and campsites - as long as they do not involve shared indoor facilities, and are only offered to people within the same household or bubble.
That was welcomed by Luke Paterson, who runs a diverse rural farming business including 10 self-contained luxury glamping units at Tonnage Bridge, on the banks of North Walsham and Dilham Canal.
"We are already 70pc booked for the next six months," he said. "When Boris Johnson announced the roadmap, the bookings flooded in. It was amazing.
"It will just be so nice to see people own there enjoying the landscape again, that is what it is all about."