The Big Idea

Bill and Deb Jordan at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve, near Fakenham.

Bill and Deb Jordan at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve, near Fakenham. - Credit: Matthew Usher

Bill and Deb Jordan, owners of Pensthorpe Natural Park, share their passion for educating the next generation about wildlife and nature.

Q. Please tell us a little about the history of Pensthorpe Natural Park.

A. The “lost village of Pensthorpe” is how we think of it! Records dating back to the time of the Domesday Book show that Pensthorpe was actually larger than its neighbour Fakenham. Exciting treasures such as medieval hand axes and woolly mammoth teeth and tusks were found on the site when over two million tonnes of aggregate were removed to make way for the beautiful park you see today.

Q. How has the park and its aims developed in recent years?

A. Positioned in a particularly beautiful part of the Wensum valley, the park captivates our visitors with its unique surroundings and ever-changing backdrop of colour and wildlife. Regular improvements are made to the land as a breeding site and haven for all sorts of species of birds and wildlife, and we are eager to continue to develop the site. Recently, we have added additional nature-inspired gardens, aviaries, wetland habitats and a magnificent outdoor adventure play area, WildRootz, to appeal to the younger members of the family. Our newly built indoor play area Hootz House will open in the summer. This unusual combination of play in the naturalistic setting of a reserve takes families back to a time when carefree days were spent outdoors fostering a love of the countryside.

Q. Engaging with children is obviously very important to you at Pensthorpe; can you tell us about your approach to getting children closer to nature?

A. Pensthorpe Natural Park is a fascinating outside classroom. The aim has been to roll education, excitement, play and fun into one big exciting day out. Families can feed the geese, identify “sculpture” bugs and creepy crawlies on the bug walk or join one of our wardens to meet our very own hedgehog, owl and red squirrels. You’d be surprised what information is gleaned from these talks, as well as the excitement of climbing with friends in the playground or showing Mum how to build a den in WildRootz.

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Q. Springwatch brought Pensthorpe to a far wider audience – did it transform your own understanding of wildlife in the area?

A. No, but with 50-plus cameras focused on our wildlife 24 hours a day, we did see more going on than usual. Arriving with a team of nearly 100 experts, the Springwatch team showed us the importance of getting vital messages across about protecting and enjoying the countryside, and we ended up with a healthy respect for the skills of Packham, Oddie et al!

Q. As well as wildlife, the gardens are a huge draw to visitors to Pensthorpe. What makes them so special to you?

A. For Deb and I, the gardens here show what can be done to add colour and interest to areas of the park which represent different themes. The Millennium Garden was designed by international garden designer Piet Oudolf on an area formerly part of a gravel digging site. Similarly, our Wave Garden is built on an old railway line which provides stunning spring colour as well as food and shelter for many different species of bird and wildlife.

Q. So Bill and Deb, what is your Big Idea to take our understanding of Norfolk’s wildlife and nature forward for future generations?

A. We keep reading about how children are hooked into technology and becoming increasingly disconnected with nature and the outdoors. Over the past 10 years, Bill and I have witnessed the rapid decline in young visitors. We believe that the key to the survival of nature conservation has to be the buy-in of the next generation and it has to happen now! It needs to be educational but most importantly it must be fun. We are blessed with a talented young team here who are equally as passionate as us and work tirelessly to ensure the next generations of Packhams and Attenboroughs have all the tools possible to expand their knowledge in a fun way here in the park. We want to encourage children to get outside - in a stimulating safe environment and have a fabulous fun day, while learning something exciting and new about their native British wildlife. ?

Pensthorpe Natural Park, Fakenham Road, Fakenham, NR21 0LN; 01328 851465;