Visitor centre planned for Norfolk’s Holkham beach

Sarah Henderson is the new conservation manager on the Holkham Estate. With Sarah is estate manager

Sarah Henderson is the new conservation manager on the Holkham Estate. With Sarah is estate manager David Horton-Fawkes. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

A new visitor centre is planned for one of Norfolk's best-known beauty spots.

The owners of Holkham Estate have lodged plans with North Norfolk District Council to build the facility at Lady Anne's Drive, which they say is the main access for Holkham Bay, is in a central location of the reserve and has good access for traffic.

But concerns have been raised about the impact the visitor centre could have on the unspoilt area.

Attracting half a million people a year, Holkham and its stretch of coastline is a popular destination for walkers, cyclists, horse riders, beach users, nature enthusiasts and bird watchers.

It has been used as the location for a number of films, including Shakespeare in Love, and has been deemed as 'one of the most beautiful parts of the world'.

Estate owners have said they need the learning centre to control the impact of visitors on the national nature reserve – but some environmentalists and conservationists have expressed dismay at plans for something man-made encroaching on an area that has been a nature reserve for four-and-a-half decades.

David Horton-Fawkes, estates director for Holkham Estate, said in a report to planners: 'The aim of the facility is to educate people about the effect of their visit on the reserve, inform visitors about the diverse, rare and protected wildlife and to provide much-needed lavatory facilities.

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'When planning for the future one of the main concerns is preserving the unique nature of the area because too many unmanaged visitors risks destroying the very essence of what people come to enjoy.

'The learning centre will reduce the impact of visitors by acting as a point of orientation and education. The facility will serve as a 'setting off' point from which visitors can explore the reserve better aware of the impact of their activities.'

The Holkham national nature reserve was designated in 1967 and covers 3,706 hectares (9,158 acres) from Wells to Burnham Overy.

Under the plans, the learning centre will offer a meeting point for groups of visitors, provide an information point and an interpretative display and will have toilets and refreshments.

It would be a 115ft by 28ft building made from a concrete base and timber with a pointed thatched roof, set above the level of the marsh. Construction could start at Easter with a break for the summer and a view to opening in early 2015.

A spokesman for the Open Spaces Society, the country's oldest national conservation body, said: 'The landscape within which the proposed works would be set is extremely sensitive.

'Developments which detract from the unspoilt, strong semi-natural character of this landscape should be resisted.'

Chris Yardley, who lives in Burnham Thorpe and has known the area all of his life, said he thought it was a good idea but in the wrong place. He said a more suitable location for the visitor centre would be at the Wells beach area.

He added: 'It is ironic that by putting a learning centre into an unspoilt landscape to interpret the 'special qualities' of that area, the area itself is changed and devalued. Many people may think that a better location could be found.'

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