Wildlife trust hits £1m appeal target after six-month Hickling fundraiser

Norfolk Wildlife Trust CEO Brendan Joyce at Hickling Broad.
'This is an exceptional response by o

Norfolk Wildlife Trust CEO Brendan Joyce at Hickling Broad. 'This is an exceptional response by our supporters to this urgent appeal.' Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

A £1 million appeal to safeguard a wildlife habitat of international importance has hit target six months after launch and two weeks after deadline.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust CEO Brendan Joyce at Hickling Broad.
'This is an exceptional response by o

Norfolk Wildlife Trust CEO Brendan Joyce at Hickling Broad. 'This is an exceptional response by our supporters to this urgent appeal.' Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

The 655-acre Hickling Broad estate will now pass to Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) after a whirlwind fundraising operation, backed by royalty, that attracted individual donations ranging from £5 to five figures-plus.

The trust paid in total £2.5m for the land parcel, the biggest land purchase in the trust's 90-year history, with the money made up of the £1m appeal, a £1m loan from the Garfield Weston Foundation and £500,000 from trust reserves.

Exchange of contracts was due at the end of March, but on completion of the sale at the end of April, Norfolk Wildlife Trust will own some 1,400 acres at Hickling Broad, about 60pc of the total area in one of the most wildlife-rich wetlands in the UK. It regularly attracts visitor numbers of 10-12,000 a year.

The trust's chief executive Brendan Joyce said: 'I am delighted to announce that £1m has been raised in such a short period of time. This is an exceptional response by our supporters to this urgent appeal and we are very moved by how much people appreciate the value of Hickling Broad. We received donations large and small – from a fiver to more than five figures – and we are so grateful to all our donors.

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'Hickling Broad, a site of international importance, clearly holds a special place in the hearts and minds of many people in Norfolk and beyond.'

Among the supporters with fond memories of Hickling is Prince Charles, patron of Britain's wildlife trusts, who recently wrote to NWT, urging members to seize 'a once in a lifetime opportunity' to help the appeal. The prince visited the broad in 2001 and was impressed by the quality of the wetland habitat.

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Mr Joyce said of the sale: 'It's a lot of money, but justified. We had to beat off competing bids for the land.'

He paid special tribute to the Garfield Weston Foundation, a family-founded grant-making trust established in 1958 since when it has donated more than £960m to charities across the UK.

He said: 'The foundation has made an unprecedented offer of a loan of £1 million to help us secure this land purchase. The significance of the loan cannot be under-estimated as it will allow us to proceed with the acquisition with confidence.

'We are extremely grateful to the Garfield Weston Foundation, our members and other charitable trusts and all those individuals who have been so generous.'

Mr Joyce went on to stress that the trust's year-round fundraising activity would not halt because of the success of the Hickling appeal. The Garfield Weston Foundation loan had to be paid back over the next five years and the trust had also been forced to take half a million pounds out of its reserves. So he was grateful to Prince Charles for his timely call to arms to members to continue to support the trust's work.

The reedbed, fen, grazing marsh, open water and woodland that make up the Hickling Broad national nature reserve offer a year-round haven for threatened wildlife.

Situated on the Upper Thurne river system, it holds a significant percentage of the UK population of common crane as well as important breeding numbers of bittern, marsh harrier, bearded tit and Cetti's warbler.

In winter, large numbers of marsh harriers roost in the reedbed north east of Stubb Mill; merlin and hen harrier are also regular visitors. Barn owls are a common sight and kingfishers have been seen. Interesting mammals include the introduced Chinese water deer, red deer and hard-to-see otters.

Among the many insects are two iconic local specialities – the swallowtail butterfly, icon of the Broads, and the Norfolk hawker dragonfly – though many equally rare, albeit lesser-known, invertebrates also occur. Plants are also well-represented, including important milk parsley, the larval food plant of the swallowtail.

Royal support

Prince Charles lent his support to the Hickling appeal in a rallying call to members as the appeal reached its climax.

In a letter published in Norfolk Wildlife Trust's members' magazine Tern – included in today's EDP – he is impressed by how many donors have shared personal memories of happy hours spent at Hickling Broad, which he describes as 'historic and vital wetland' and 'a precious part of our natural world'.

The prince also came to the broad, in 2001, to see the results of a reedbed restoration project.

'Even on a cold November day, the breath-taking scale of the wetland habitats was apparent,' he writes. 'Since then, the trust has become even more ambitious, extending wetland habitats and managing newly restored fen to encourage wildlife.

'Hickling Broad's rich mosaic of threatened habitats and the rare wildlife they support make an important contribution to conservation, not just in Norfolk, but nationally and internationally.'

'A great outcome'

The vendor of the 655 acres at Hickling Broad is 'delighted the land is going to Norfolk Wildlife Trust'.

With a near 120-year family interest in the broad, Hallam Mills, with extensive farming and conservation interests in Hampshire, added: 'It's gone into very good hands, and I know many people in the area are delighted with the result.'

And Mr Mills, 65, who regularly visits Hickling Broad once or twice a year, aims to continue sailing and bird watching at the internationally important wetland site.

The last time the land changed hands was some 200 years ago and legal teams for both parties have been involved in due diligence for some time. 'It was quite a complicated deal,' said Mr Mills. 'There are lots of little parcels of land in it, so we had to give the lawyers time to get it right. I think it's a great outcome.'

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