Just over 30 years ago, Lackford Lakes was still an active quarry. A place that clanked and hummed with heavy machinery working to expose and remove sand and gravel laid down during the Ice Age.
It was the vision of one man, Bernard Tickner MBE, which initiated the sequence of events that would lead to the creation of a nature reserve: the transformation of large, dusty holes in the ground to a 320-acre wetland oasis, recognised nationally for its importance to wildlife.
In 1987, as mineral extraction began to slow, Bernard moved to purchase part of the site known as The Slough and passed it to Suffolk Wildlife Trust to manage the land for wildlife. The fledgling reserve was small but effective. As water began to fill the pits, the birds began to arrive. The same machines that tore apart the earth had also created an opportunity for wildlife: an inland waterway on the natural flight path of the River Lark.
Much has happened in the past three decades. In 1999, with the sand and gravel reserves finally exhausted, Atlas Aggregates (which had become RMC and subsequently CEMEX) generously gifted the whole site to the Trust. The desert-like expanse of bare sandy ground has been replaced by grass, scrub, trees and reed. It has become a place of succession and transformation. The quarries have been healed with water, the burrowings of man turned into a system of lakes. The sound of industry replaced with nightingale and bittern, the fluorescent workwear swapped for the hi-vis blue of a kingfisher wobbling like a gas flame over water.
Lackford’s 30th birthday then, is a chance to celebrate. A point in time to reflect and rejoice at what the reserve has become: a Site of Special Scientific Interest for wading birds and dragonflies; an oasis for wildlife in a modern world that in its rush forwards sometimes forgets or refuses to accommodate the natural world.
But this anniversary is also an opportunity. For 55 years the Trust has been leading conservation efforts in Suffolk and has helped save some of the county’s most important wildlife places by protecting them as nature reserves. These reserves are the heart of a Living Landscape that connects towns and villages to the countryside. The larger these reserves are the more able they are to support viable populations of species while resisting negative impacts from surrounding land. With this in mind, when possible, the Trust looks to expand these reserves and allow wildlife to increase its foothold – our campaign to create a 1,000-acre nature reserve in the Broads being just one example. The same is true at Lackford Lakes, where there is now the chance to buy a swathe of land next to the existing reserve. The new land, formed of 77 acres of what was once arable land, has (just like Lackford Lakes) matured over the past 25 years and is now reverting to Breckland Heath, a home to rare flora and fauna, including the charismatic stone curlew. With support from our members and the public the Trust hopes to raise £200,000 towards the purchase price, ensuring Lackford Lakes is bigger and better for both people and wildlife.
It would be a birthday present that lasts for generations.