UEA nature trail will unlock wealth of wildlife in Norwich

A young otter dives silently into the water, surfacing seconds later to glide to the reedbed with a fish clamped between its jaws.

Just yards away, long-tailed tits dart over the heads of dog walkers while redwings rustle in the ivy.

But this is not a primetime wildlife documentary – it's happening within walking distance of one of Norfolk's most densely populated areas.

The opening of new nature trail at the University of East Anglia Broad aims to get people out to discover the wealth of wildlife living in the area, including water voles, kingfishers and water rail.

Split into four parts, each representing a different variety of typical Norfolk habitat, the trail provides around five kilometres of walkways to the south of the UEA campus, and has been made possible thanks to a �9,000 grant from the Big Lottery Fund's Community Wildlife programme.

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Naturalist Mark Crocker, a former UEA student, opened the nature trail yesterday and said the project would help to gently wake people to the wildlife around them.

'A lot of people come to walk their dogs or just go for a walk, but their encounter with it is largely subliminal. They just know they like it,' he said.

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'The nature trail will allow people to realise why they like it – that's what it's here for.'

An audit of the area by the university School of Biological Sciences revealed the richness of the trail's surroundings – including 147 species of birds, 35 species of mammals and nearly 700 species of moth.

The trail's individual parts take visitors through fen and wet woodland, woodland and grass meadow, the UEA broad, and the Yare valley, with information boards to flag up interesting sights.

Mr Cocker said: 'The presence of water means we can't do anything with the area, so we've left it in a semi-natural condition.

'It's a really valuable bit of landscape. It's so near so many people, and they can all enjoy it.'

As well as the favourites – kingfishers, herons and great crested grebes – orchids and otters are among the particular highlights for visitors, said Mr Cocker.

'The otter is something in itself – when I started out 30 years ago, otters were almost mythical creatures. Yet here we have one of our most charismatic predators right under our noses.

'It's the totality of it, the fact there are so many different things here – that is its core blessing.'

The trail project has been organised by UEA Volunteers, a group set up to support worthy causes, and students offered guided tours to visitors yesterday.

Volunteer administrator Elaine Sherriffs said her team would be working with primary schools to lead nature lessons, and catalogue the wildlife on show over the coming months.

She said: 'We hope people remember that the campus is accessible and open to them. This should enrich the experience of walking alongside the river, through the woods, across the meadows or around the UEA Broad.'

Share your wildlife pictures of the UEA Broad on our new www.iwitness24.co.uk site

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