Campaigners fighting to secure the long-term future of a popular nature reserve near Fakenham have been given an early Christmas present by lottery chiefs.
More than £200,000 has already been raised towards the estimated cost of purchasing lands bordering the Sculthorpe Moor site.
Now, the reserve’s owners, the Hawk and Owl Trust, have been given a £38,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to enable work to continue on the project.
The award also gives them the chance to apply for a further grant covering nearly half of the anticipated cost.
The news of the award was released on Wednesday, almost seven months after the trust launched its appeal to raise the money needed.
Reserve manager Nigel Middleton said: “I’m absolutely delighted and excited for the future.
“We can now develop the project to enable us to secure habitat along the beautiful and ecologically important Wensum valley and allow us to ensure the area will be accessible to everyone.”
Adrian Blumfield, the trust’s chief operations director, added: “Now the real hard work begins, as we begin to draw together the finalised details and start the ball rolling. Exciting times ahead.
“This success wouldn’t have been possible without all the hard work put in by the staff and volunteers of the trust who have been involved in this application.
“Their passion and determination to bring this vision to reality for wildlife and people is truly inspiring.”
The trust is aiming to raise £1.7 million over two years to buy two areas of Sculthorpe Fen which surround the site of the existing reserve.
Officials launched a public appeal in May to raise half the total, while it is hoped the support of the HLF will provide the remainder. So far, around £220,000 has been raised.
The latest grant gives the trust the chance to submit an application for a second stage award of more than £820,000.
Although the trust has provided agricultural stewardship of the lands it is trying to buy for the past 10 years, that arrangement is ending.
The trust says the chance to buy the sites was offered as a consequence of that and would enable them to open the lands to the public.
For more information, or to make a donation, visit www.sculthorpefen.co.uk.