In the words of Bob Dylan, "Better stay away from those / that carry around a fire hose." Sorry I meant "The times they are a changin'"
This week it was announced that Whitlingham Charitable Trust, the people responsible for Whitlingham Country Park, are ending their contract with the Broads Authority to run the C.P. as of 31st March 2020. This was unexpected, firstly because the Broads Authority staff have been present since the park opened so I assumed that this was a successful and long-term arrangement, and secondly because BA and the Whitlingham Charitable Trust have very close ties - the registered address of the Trust is the Broads Authority offices, and the Broads Authority also has the right to appoint trustees to the Whitlingham Charitable Trust.
You can read the initial article and statements on the EDP website here (if you can get passed the caption of the photo, in which someone demonstrates an issue with their Flag Iris identification). Article 1 (of 3) focussed on the reaction of the Broads Authority and thanking them for their work to date. The only bit relating to the future is:
"The trustees have however decided that the next phase in the Country Park's development is to be led by the charity independently from the Broads Authority. A plan to transition to the new arrangements is under development with a start date of 1 April 2020."
This adds very little information as to how the C.P. will be managed (up until recently Whitlingham Charitable Trust had no employees, so it would presumably involve recruiting a whole team) and just a note that a plan is under development.
A day later and those "daffodils" returned with a further statement about the future of Whitlingham, with the headline announcement
"Whitlingham Country Park will become larger, easier to access and with a broader range of activities, its trustees said after severing ties with the Broads Authority"
The full article (2) is here. It goes on to say
"Following the decision to manage the site ourselves, we have developed new plans for enhancing the visitor offer and building on the work that has been done to date"
"The plans, which are currently being finalised, will include enlarging the site to offer more access to the surrounding land and improvements to the current barn and café area"
These stories were circulated on social media and commented on under the articles, but didn't seem to attract that much attention as far as I could see. Whitlingham tends to attract two types of comment, one saying how nice it is and one moaning about the parking (a rather tedious pursuit - most of the revenue to maintain the C.P. comes from paying to use the car park, so the cost is a necessary one).
It was then a further surprise to see yet another Whitlingham based story in the EDP today (article 3), assuring visitors that there were no plans to limit access, charge for access or change the parking arrangements.
"We are currently finalising the plans for Whitlingham Country Park and hope to be able to unveil them in the coming months. We would, however, like to reassure all the users that there are no significant plans to rethink any parking arrangements and opening times, or for our visitors to be charged to enter the site. We want any changes we undertake to make the site more accessible and enhance the current offering."
So, lots to take in there - what does it actually mean for visitors? Well firstly I'll be sorry to see some of the long-standing members of BA staff leave, although hopefully they will all go to jobs elsewhere in the Broads. The tourist information desk will close, and I assume that the solar boat will also go. The cafe will presumably continue on. Beyond that it is hard to say. I have two initial concerns:
1) The maintenance of Whitlingham C.P. for wildlife (it is designated as a local nature reserve, although I don't think there is anything on site that says that). There is currently a management plan in place put together by Broads Authority ecologists - professionals who know the local area, so it is imperative that the next management plan for 2020 onwards builds on this knowledge and is both compiled by an experienced ecologist and acted upon by those managing the park.
2) The idea of opening up more of the site, which would presumably mean some of the land behind the picnic meadow sounds quite interesting, but the articles make reference to additional activities. Whilst it is understandable that additional things should be considered, the last time major changes were suggested (2012) some of the ideas were not in keeping with the idea of quiet recreation for example building a spa and a hotel. I am also aware of places like High Lodge in Thetford, where there are lots of activities but the area is a sterile piece of woodland avoided by those who just want a peaceful walk. I hope that any plans this time will be more sensitive to why people actually visit.
Of course at the moment we can only speculate as to what will happen next year, and what effect these decisions will have. The Whitlingham Charitable Trust hold an "open forum" each November so more information may emerge there, although the date doesn't always seem to be published online in time for people to attend - the page to check is here: http://www.whitlinghamcharitabletrust.com/the-trust.html