Posted: July 19th 2019
by Mitchell Thurbon, The Lookout Café Manager
I have just fired up my laptop in preparation for writing about our most recent ‘Come See’ on the Holkham National Nature Reserve and it has just dawned on me that I have not written a blog since 2007, and even then it was just a load of rambling about a motorbike and my journey across Vietnam. With this in mind readers, you have my full apology if you make it to the end of this. Let’s just say there’s a reason I run a café and not writing workshops.
At 7.55am, I pulled up and parked on Lady Anne’s drive, the sun was already beating down and there were already cars and people about. What an excellent day to have the ‘Come See’, I thought; today is definitely a good day to get out of the office. It should be a good turnout, I thought; And I was right.
Sixty confirmed staff members was the last count I had, not a number to sniff at! I quickly checked my emails to see if this had changed. Sure enough, an email from Holkham Enterprises Manager, Celia, we are now up to eighty. At this point, Josh, my supervisor, turns up in the electric van packed full of fresh rolls ready for the bacon butty onslaught.
We crack on, get tidied up, brew some coffee and swing open all the windows to let some air in.
“Oh, by the way,” says Josh as the first lot of walled garden volunteers arrive, “Celia says you have to do a speech.” Wonderful.
Straight away after the volunteers, the gardening department show up. Of course, they probably didn’t know there was a ‘Come See’ but they can smell a free bacon roll from 10 miles away! They were followed by a mass of people from all walks of the estate from pretty much every department which was good to see. Halfway through the influx, it was like a scene from Reservoir Dogs as the wardens strut in four abreast all with shades on. Finally, as the flood thinned to a trickle the Pinewoods team pull up in style in their fleet of electric buggies. Excellent parking gents!
By this point, the bacon butties are going down a treat followed by gulps of coffee. Head Forester, Harry Wakefield had already demolished his first roll and I could see him eyeing up the convection oven for another, while Lady Leicester’s PA, Laura Ballantyne- Taylor had, of course, managed to fire tomato ketchup everywhere. There’s always one. (And it’s always her!)
At this point I would like to point out that my ability to ramble on is not just limited to writing blogs, it would appear that I can do it while talking to a group as well…
The next ten minutes go blurry as eighty pairs of eyes pinned me to the centre circle of The Lookout while I tried to not fall over my own tongue. I think I just about managed to get out the bits that I felt strongly about. A big thank you to everyone for coming. An explanation of how The Lookout couldn’t be what it is today without the help from all the different departments. A joke about Pete, essential that. A quick talk about how every single piece of packaging in The Lookout, from cups to binbags, is compostable and how it’s from a sustainable source. I closed with a nod to Holkham Conservation Manager, Jake Fiennes then quickly dived out of the sun.
Up stepped Jake, looking far more presentable than I in a crisp shirt and sounding far more eloquent by a long shot.
At this point, I split my attention in three ways. Mostly on Jake as he explained the layout of the reserve and gave a bit of an explanation about what he and his team do, their recent successes with the wildlife, some of the challenges they face, one of which is only accentuated by the presence of The Lookout and my team, that being the eight hundred thousand visitors that we see coming to the reserve every year.
Another part of my attention goes to the small crowd of people gathering at the door and wondering what is going on.
“My, what a lot of twitchers in here first thing” exclaims one lady as she ambles around behind the interpretation boards, lured in by the smell of fresh coffee and bacon.
“Mind if we bring the dog in?” asks another, pointing to a dog that is easily bigger than some horses we get on the beach.
The final part of my attention is on the bit of space about two feet over Jake’s head. Completely unbeknown to him, because everyone is enraptured by his words and totally silent, the Barn Swallows nesting in the eves of the building, had decided that now would be a good time to go about their business and start darting and weaving as they pleased. Narrowly missing Jake in the process.
Jake wrapped up, again in an annoying eloquent manner (no stutters from him) and splits everybody into three teams led by Holkham’s Reserve Wardens, Andy Bloomfield, Paul Eele and Jonny Holt, and himself to have a quick walk on the reserve and learn a bit more.
I tagged on to the back of Andy’s group and we trooped off to Bertie’s Marsh. Here Andy told us, and the herd of cows following behind us, all about how he and the team manage the water levels of the wetlands. Andy explained that until recently, Bertie’s Marsh was just used as grazing land for livestock but with the building of The Lookout, in order to encourage some of the species on the reserve that would normally be hidden away, they dug trenches and scrapes and put in a simple sluice control to make use of any excess water on the west side of the reserve and in doing so have created a whole habitat right on the doorstep of The Lookout. A success story if there ever was one!
Next, we crossed Lady Anne’s Drive to the marsh adjacent where this time rather than being watched by cows, Andy had two baby Lapwings listen to him explain how the reserve is such a fragile environment. Andy explained how birds like the Lapwings need just the right mix of long grass, short grass, and wetland in order to survive and thrive. He also went on to explain just how damaging invasive species can be and about just how much work it can take to keep the area looking as good as it does. One of the invasive species and worst offenders, of course, being us. Climate change is also having a huge impact on what they do, he explained, as more and more insect species migrate to England with the changes in the weather over the last few years. That being said, Andy mentioned how inspired he is to work in an area such as the reserve and joked about how he still has to pinch himself some mornings because he can’t believe how lucky he is. He also told us how he is waiting to hear back from a scientific committee about a potential new species of fungi he has found on the Reserve. Fingers crossed for “Bloomfieldius”.
Finally, in the glorious sunshine, we moseyed up to the Holkham Gap viewpoint where it was obvious the impact us humans have on the environment. We could see the paths where thousands of people walk each week. These somehow only seemed to emphasise the view as it cut a clearly defined line between sand and saltmarsh. The talk of how we face many challenges with regards to people management was punctuated by a lady whose dog was taking itself for a walk without her.
Andy finally took us through the tide movements and how the dunes serve to protect areas and how the fauna, in turn, protects the dunes.
“It’s all about balance” were the words that hit home to me. Standing there in the beautiful morning with the sounds of nature all around it’s a no brainer as to why people want to visit. Off the back of that, having listened to the explanations of just how special the NNR is, with is biodiversity and plethora of rare and stunning species its equally easy to see why the wildlife want to be here too.
So, as I’m wondering how it is one ends a blog, I sit feeling inspired to do my bit to educate people to all the reasons why the Holkham National Nature Reserve is so special. Hopefully, I’m not the only one. And, if you have valiantly read all the way to the end then I will finish with this; Words don’t do it justice, get out there and get inspired yourself!