A little over a year ago, one of the UK’s most ambitious nature recovery projects launched; the charitable movement, WildEast.
WildEast aims to return 250,000 hectares (20%) of East Anglia to nature, to make this region one of the biggest, best connected and restored nature reserves in Europe.
Since moving back to my home region of East Anglia in 2019, I’ve been excited to get out and visit some of the progressive and innovative projects taking place across Norfolk and Suffolk — and although a certain pandemic slowed things down — I’m thrilled to now find myself able to get out amongst some of these rewilding hotspots.
It’s not hard to imagine my delight then, when I received invitation to visit Fritton Lake, an estate formerly associated with an uncomfortable past involving fox-hunting, which is now a transformed landscape at at the forefront of WildEast.
Fritton Lake is part of the Somerleyton Estate and was a tenanted farm until the 1970s. As a private holiday club, however, Fritton Lake is designed to give guests the chance to immerse themselves in 1,000 acres of wild land and nature, from wild swimming in the lake, to trail running, cycling, paddle boarding and sailing — there are numerous ways to relax in nature.
Here follows 10 ways that Fritton Lake is adopting rewilding values…
1. Giving Land Back to Nature
Unspoilt woodland and lush meadows surround the sparkling lake at its heart; it’s easy to see why Fritton Lake has become an unrivalled holiday destination in the East of England. The thing about it that impressed me the most, however, is that since 2017, the farmland has gradually been restored to carefully managed sustainable wildland that is now home to free-roaming animals, rich bird and plant life.
Fritton Lake prides itself on teaching guests about biodiversity and our fragile ecosystems. It contributes directly to the on-site conservation work and guests are encouraged to join the rewilding team (through jeep, on-foot and boat safaris) to learn from and improve our natural ecosystem.
Guests are also given the chance to forage for dinner and eat out in the wild among free roaming Red and Fallow Deer, Highland Cattle, Water Buffalo, Black Pigs and Exmoor Ponies.
In this current phase of its evolution, Fritton Lake is at the forefront of WildEast, the ambitious European rewilding programme.
2. Wildlife Habitat at Fritton Lake
Exploring the grounds of Fritton Lake, it was easy to see how rich the area is in birdlife, insects and of course fish! I’m told pike, ell perch, carp, roach and bream can be found in the waters (fish are not my area of expertise).
I did however, see an abundance of birds — in the wild meadows during my jeep safari, it was easy to spot Skylarks, Partridges and Pheasants and around the edges of the lake, the foilage was full of various species of dragonflies and butterflies (Peacocks, Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Meadow Brown, Large White, Comma and Small Copper, to name but a few).
I’m told that Fritton Lake is also home to Red Deer, Fallow Deer, Roe Deer, Herons, Otters, Red Kites, Water Voles, Egrets, Buzzards and Kingfisher.
3. Re-introduced Native Species and ‘Eco Engineers’
A number of new residents make their home among the one thousand acres of sustainable wildland on the Somerleyton Estate. I say new, but in truth, they are walking in the footsteps and hoof-prints of their ancestors.
During my visit, I was able to see reintroduced species such as free-roaming Large Black Pigs and Exmoor ponies, and I was told that the land has also seen the reintroduction of key species such as Water Buffalo, Highland Cattle, Black Welsh Mountain Sheep — all regarded as bio engineers.
Exmoor Ponies play a crucial role in shaping natural habitats; from grazing through to trampling, wallowing and scenting, their influence benefits a multitude of species, promoting biodiversity.
Another key species that’s been re-introduced to the landscape is Large Black Pigs. By burrowing, scuffing and trampling about the place, these pigs create micro habitats that entice more butterflies, moths, bees and beetles to land, and allow species such as birds to find food.
They are awesome bio engineers that literally reshape the land; they are particularly good at clearing bracken and increasing organic matter in soil.
4. An Ideal Eco Staycation
Just a few hours from London but worlds away from the city, Fritton Lake offers a rejuvenating yet sustainable escape in Norfolk. Here you can elevate your endorphins with activities in nature and replenish with locally sourced, seasonal food.
At the private holiday club, accommodation is in beautiful woodland cabins, farm cottages and boutique hotel rooms in the 16th century Clubhouse.
Pictured above, the Clubhouse was once the old farmhouse, used during the days when site was a tenanted farm. Today, it’s a boutique eight-room hotel with a pub/restaurant, and there are also cabins on site for guests to stay in.
On a typical day, visitors can wake with a wild lake swim, join a walking, water or jeep nature safari, go trail running, get tennis match-fit, join a group yoga or fitness class, cycle, paddle board or sail, and forage for dinner.
I personally left this staycation destination feeling invigorated. Becoming a part of this greener vision of the future really allows you to reconnect; with yourself, your loved ones, and with nature.
Earlier this year, Fritton Lake introduced a floating sauna on the lake, located on a pontoon so it can move around. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to use it, it was certainly interesting to see — and I love that the lake remains at the heart of all activities.
5. Seasonal Menu Served on Site — With Great Vegan Options!
Of course a big part of both Fritton Lake and Wild East is the desire to transform food production and create a sustainable legacy. As such, I was very interested to see what was on the menu at lunchtime.
At The Clubhouse, a seasonal menu features flavourful ingredients grown and bred on the land, with vegan and gluten free options.
I opted for a delicious strawberry gazpache, falafel salad and a vegan chocolate ganache for dessert.
Honestly, the food was delicious, and I loved the chance to sit outside in the summer sunshine, overlooking the garden, which gave views of butterflies hovering over the nearby grassy edges.
The south facing terrace is divided into dining areas sectioned off by potted shrubs and herbs. As well as giving a sense of privacy, this also allows guests to sit among aromas of lavender and rosemary — so relaxing!
6. Foraging Tours
Many of us have become so disconnected from our food, that it feels like a return to the wild in and of its own to get to know our natural food sources better.
Foraging tours at Fritton lake take place with resident gardener Matthew (pictured below) and are included as a unique, complimentary activity for guests.
In addition to foraging tours, which take place either on land or water, there’s also wine tasting with local vineyards and cocktail classes on offer.
7. Rewilding Jeep Safaris
Another rather unique offering at Fritton Lake, and one that made my visit so memorable, was the chance to explore some of the land that’s in the process of being rewilded. And for this part of the day, I got to see it while bouncing along in a safari jeep!
We were fortunate enough to be given a tour by Lord Somerleyton himself, who took the time to explain why he was able to take some of his land out of production, and where the idea for Wild East first began — some 12-13 years ago.
I felt that I learned a lot about the reality of rewilding, and came away understanding that it truly is a long and slow process. For example, the Canadian fleabane shown in the photo above takes sevens years to go from seed to germination! However, the benefit of this plant, is that it removes any leftover chemicals from the field’s earlier farming days — and it’s good food for Exmoor Ponies.
8. Fences for the Future Plans at Fritton Lake
One of the exciting things about Fritton Lake is the list of ideas and plans that Lord Somerleyton has in mind, but has yet to implement.
He spoke of how fencing the reserve will mean that apex engineers, such as beavers, storks, pelicans and European Bison can also be introduced. And perhaps one day, lynx.
9. Vision for Farming of the Future
Behind so much of the great work that’s happening at Fritton Lake supports a desire to transform food production into something more sustainable.
Lord Somerleyton spoke at length about the benefits of wild farming, and suggested the need for an accreditation system to recognised farmers who are ‘wildlife-friendly’.
A term he used that particularly interested me, was the description of many people nowadays choosing a ‘welfartarian’ diet — not simply avoiding meat and dairy all together (as I personally choose to), but rather investigating the welfare of the animals during their lifetimes.
It was interesting to hear a farmer’s take on how farming can be improved for the modern day, and having originally turned vegetarian for environmental reasons (and later vegan for animal welfare reasons), it was thought-provoking at least to hear how — compared to intensively bred cattle — keeping horses, for example, drastically reduces the amount of methane released into the atmosphere.
10. Map of Dreams
Fritton Lake is at the forefront of WildEast, a bold initiative which aims to return 250,000 hectares (20%) of East Anglia, back to nature. The ultimate aim is to transform the region into one of the UK’s biggest and best nature reserves, and Fritton Lake guests can be part of this greener vision of the future.
WildEast asks for pledges of up to 20% of land from individuals and businesses. They’ve had over 1,000 pledges so far, from schoolyards, backyards, farmyards, housing estates, farming estates, industrial estates etc, which are tracked on their Map of Dreams.
The WildEast ‘Map of Dreams’ has been launched to incentivise and track projects around the region that encourage nature regeneration. The new map enlists the energy, passion and motivation of residents to take positive action, slow the pace of destruction and create change.
By creating a suitable habitat, the hope is to return abundance and pave the way for the reintroduction of key species mentioned (i.e. the beaver, pelican, bison and lynx).
Fully inclusive, WildEast invites everyone to get involved, from farmers and landowners to ecologies and smallholders.