Marking 30 years of conservation at Lackford Lakes

Benard Tickners vision for Lackford Lakes  is now a reality with habitats from open water to heath
Benard Tickners vision for Lackford Lakes is now a reality with habitats from open water to heath

If you visit Lackford Lakes today you will find one of the jewels in Suffolk’s impressive conservation crown.

This is a place where you can be certain of seeing kingfishers and a massive selection of wildfowl on its acres of lakes, yet its 320 acres also boast a rare mixture of habitats, from reedbeds to Brecks-style dry heathland, where you may be lucky enough to encounter the rare stone-curlew.

Stone-curlews now nest at Lackford Lakes

Stone-curlews now nest at Lackford Lakes

This mixture of habitats also means it has a surprising mix of plants and wildlife, from the solitary bees and wasps of the sandy heath, with its unique drought resistant flora, to otters coming in from the River Lark to fish in lakes interspersed with woodland.

But when the Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserve began 30 years ago, it was a very different picture of worked-out gravel pits and a a machine ravaged landscape.

Turning it into a nature reserve was largely due to the vision and determination of one man, Bernard Tickner who, at 93 and having just been given an MBE for services to nature conservation, still lives across the Lark and whose Fullers Mill Garden runs down to the reserve. He is now a vice-president of Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

He initially fought a planning application by Atlas Aggregates for extraction on the site, but when he realised it was an unwinnable battle he cleverly entered an agreement with them to buy the land when they had finished with it.

Lackford Laes visitor centre

Lackford Laes visitor centre

When Atlas continually extended the workings, he pushed to ensure post-works restoration was done in a wildlife-friendly way.

By 1987 the large mineral extraction site was near the end of its working life and Bernard exercised his option to buy a worked out part of the site, known as The Slough, which he then gave to Suffolk Wildlife Trust to create a nature reserve.

When Atlas’ successors Cemex finished with the rest of the site in 1999, they gave it to SWT who had formed a working relationship with the company in the interests of the site’s wildlife.

In fact, Lackford Lakes had been made a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1997, reflecting the national importance of its population of over-wintering birds and the diversity of dragonfly species found there.

Lackford Lakes as it looked in its days as  a gravel workings

Lackford Lakes as it looked in its days as a gravel workings

One reason for its popularity with birds is that it is in the Lark Valley, which is a natural fly-way for them, so passing birds drop in to rest and refuel.

In spring and autumn migrating ospreys may even come in for a fish supper en route between British nest sites and African winter homes.

The wetland habitat of the early reserve gained a sample of the neighbouring Brecks sandy heath in 2005 when the SWT was able to buy the 55 acres of poor arable fields on either side of the access road.

The fields were ideally suited to revert to dry impoverished grassland and rabbits quickly colonised them, nibbling away to help turn them back to the Breck grass-heath they had probably once been. The success of this was demonstrated several years later when the first nesting pair of stone-curlews arrived.

The visitor centre opened in 2002, funded by Landfill Tax Credits, though an extension to accommodate increasing visits by school parties was funded by Bernard Tickner in memory of his wife Bess.

But the reserve has not finished growing. The trust this summer launched a £200,000 appeal to buy 77 acres of land to the west of the existing reserve which has not been farmed for 25 years. By Wednesday the money raised was more than £96,000.

Julian Roughton, chief executive of Suffolk Wildlife Trust said: “As the ecological anchor of a Living Landscape, our nature reserves are more important than ever and the larger they are, the better for wildlife.

“Large sites and networks of habitat are better able to support viable populations of species and are less affected by impacts from surrounding land.

“The opportunity we have now to extend Lackford Lakes is about safeguarding Suffolk’s wonderful natural heritage but it is also about sharing it.”

Lackford Lakes certainly shares its natural heritage. As well as the visitor centre, with its cafe from whose windows you may see water rails pecking round the bird tables, it has several well appointed hides from which you can watch wildlife in comfort without fear of disturbing it.

Many of its paths are wheelchair passable.

If you want to find out how the reserve has changed over the years, why not go to its 30th birthday weekend on September 23 and 24?

On the Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 10.30am and 2pm, site manager Will Cranstoun and reserves assistant Joe Bell-Tye will run guided walks explaining how Lackford has changed over the past 30 years and you will visit areas you would not normally be allowed into.

A family quiz history trail will run around the kingfisher trail where there will also be opportunities to talk to volunteers about the wildlife you see.

On Saturday at 1pm there will be a chance for a closer look at the moths found on the reserve.

Family activities, such as guided pond dipping (bookable at reception)and bug hunting will be running all weekend between 11am and 4pm. There will also be fete games made and run by the reserves Young Wardens group.

To donate to the Lackford Lakes appeal visit www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/suffolkwildlifetrust/lackfordbirthday