Flying start for Whitlingham Broad’s latest attraction

A small crowd yesterday braved storm clouds and hail to watch Whitlingham Country Park's latest attraction make a flying start to its new life.

The Broads Authority's trip boat Ra, the first solar-powered passenger vessel in the UK when it was brought to Norfolk in 2000, has been moved from its previous home on Barton Broad to give visitors a taste of the Broads from the doorstep of Norwich.

But before the 30ft, 12-seater boat could be moved by crane from the bank, rising over the trees, environmental officer Emma Harris carried out a careful check to make sure there was no sign of any killer shrimps.

The invasive shrimp dikero-gammarus villosus – a threat to native species – was recently found on Barton Broad but none have so far been discovered at Whitlingham.

Ra will offer four trips a day around the Great Broad from now until the end of October with expert guides offering information about the wildlife that can be seen there and advice about how best to explore further into the Broads.

Martin Shaw, chairman of Whitlingham Charitable Trust which owns the country park, said: 'Ra will be a huge asset to the country park which continues to go from strength to strength and now attracts 500,000 visitors a year. We have had so many calls asking about her since it was announced that the boat was coming here.

'She will enable the residents of Norwich to have a hi-tech experience on the water and get close to the abundant wildlife within a stone's throw of the city centre.'

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Broads Authority chairman Stephen Johnson said: 'Moving Ra here will give many more people a chance to go out on her and introduce them to the Broads.'

The authority's visitor services supervisor Sam Bates said: 'Whitlingham attracts a large number of wheelchair-using visitors and Ra's ability to offer trips to these groups will provide an excellent opportunity for them to experience the waterways and the rich natural heritage and local history.'

Phil Hardy, deputy cabinet member for education at Norfolk County Council, said: 'We are thrilled to have Ra based at Whitlingham and are hopeful it will bring new visitors to the park, along with their families. It will also give people a chance to learn more about the outdoor education centre and what we have on offer.'

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