Inspirational community wildlife heroes gathered to share their stories in the hope of uniting nature recovery efforts across East Anglia.

Nature recovery movement WildEast held a series of events this week at Fritton Lake, part of the Somerleyton Estate near Lowestoft.

The organisation was launched in 2020 with the ambitious 50-year goal of restoring 20pc of East Anglia's land to nature.

It aims to do that by encouraging "pledges" from everyone from major farming estates to schools, businesses and domestic households - with their combined efforts shown on an online "Map of Dreams".

Four of those pledgees took part in a panel discussion, including Sophie Flux, of the Wildlife Friendly Village at Risby, near Bury St Edmunds.

The project began in summer 2019, when she approached parish, district and county councils to request the use of spaces on public land for wildlife.

After speaking to villagers, businesses and farmers, she formulated a detailed proposal which resulted in the creation of a mosaic of new habitats on 11 "wild areas" in the village, plus a large area of the recreation ground.

"It made me believe that if you are brave enough to go and speak to people and show you are persistent, then things can happen," she said.

"Being able to pledge to WildEast and say: 'This is what I am doing where I am', and seeing what other people are doing with what they have got, means I am not just an individual, I am actually part of a massive movement in the place that I love in East Anglia, which can make a difference for our future, our children's future, and the wildlife we are sharing our land with.

"Together, my community, your community - imagine if we all linked? Then we can make a real difference."

The farming industry was represented by Mark Hayward of Dingley Dell Pork near Woodbridge in Suffolk, whose family's ethos is about "commercial farming which is being inclusive with nature, rather than pushing nature out".

This includes rotating pigs around condensed strips of land, freeing up areas to plant for wildlife and pollinators.

He said this strategy has generated huge volumes of nectar-rich flowers at peak times for pollinator demand - resulting in an estimated one million bumblebees on the farm three years ago.

"There is a bit of cost in it," said Mr Hayward. "But where it has been hugely beneficial is the chefs, the businesses we deal with, are beginning to understand where we are coming from and we say to these guys: 'How you buy your food influences nature, it influences the environment'.

"So we are focused on this idea of trying to get other farmers not just having a wildlife-rich farm for themselves, but for the food world to understand if we want more nature we need to support farmers who are doing certain projects."

There were also two examples of pledgees who had devoted their efforts to reintroducing wildlife habitats in their own gardens - Alex Moore Da Luz, who spoke about the value of incorporating water features and dead wood in his garden in Mistley, north Essex, and Daisy Greenwell, who moved to a new family home on the banks of Suffolk's River Deben wo weeks before the Covid lockdown in 2020.

The panel discussion was chaired by Laura Hampton of WildEast, who said: "It is really important to tell positive stories about nature reintroduction that really inspire other people to start doing the same kind of things."

The event also featured expert speakers on subjects including conservation, rewilding and climate change, as well as offering activities including nature safaris within the 1000-acre rewilding project at Fritton Lake.

Hugh Somerleyton, owner of the Somerleyton Estate and co-founder of WildEast, said: "This all started when we got very constructive feedback from pledgees who quite rightly said that when the pledged they saw it as the beginning of their journey, but now it had begun to feel like the end of a journey. Now they had pledged, now what?

"So this was an opportunity to say thank you to our pledgees, do some safaris, a bit of kids' education and to invite a few speakers to find out how we can grow the network and make it a more cohesive unit."

Classroom highlights East's wild history

The discussions at the WildEast event took place in a new classroom which features an extraordinary illustration of the region's landscape history.

A disused Dutch barn at Fritton Lake has been transformed into an information-laden educational resource.

The walls are covered with a landscape timeline ranging from the Stone Age, through the era of hunter gathers, then deforestation and enclosures, to the agricultural revolution and modern industrialisation.

The wallpaper uses maps and infographics to chart changing populations, and how land management practices have impacted on wildlife species and local extinctions as the areas of woodland, wetland and farmland evolved.

It also presents a future vision for 2070, showing what WildEast believes can be achieved through a combination of factors including sustainable farming methods, rewilding and reconnecting habitats.

It is the product of 18 months of work by Jane Fitzgerald White, a chartered landscape architect who chose to pledge her time and expertise to the WildEast cause.

She said: "This is an artistic representation of 17,000 years of human history, from the perspective of East Anglia, looking at human activities associated with land management but also agricultural practices, and illustrating the impact these have made on nature, wildlife and soils.

"As a landscape architect one of things that drives me is to make space for nature in all the work I do, so there was something about WildEast that really captured my imagination.

"With this, there is a chance to make a real difference because of the scale of it, and it is democratic - not just aimed at farmers and landowners, but all parts of the community can take part.

"I am also really interested in attracting the younger generation. That is how we start to change things."

WildEast hopes to encourage schools and nature groups from across the region to use the classroom, allied to the natural educational opportunities within the wilder areas of the Fritton Lake resort.