In charge:

Broads Au­thor­ity chief ex­ec­u­tive Dr John Pack­man has to per­form a del­i­cate bal­anc­ing act ev­ery day, writes Mar­ion Wel­ham

EDP Norfolk - - EDP NORFOLK MAGAZINE - visit­the­

We meet the man who runs the Broads Na­tional Park

John Pack­man is a prag­ma­tist. He has to be. As chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Broads Au­thor­ity, he’s re­spon­si­ble for an area that con­tains a quar­ter of the most rare and im­por­tant species found in the UK while, at the same time, hosts more than seven mil­lion vis­i­tors a year.

Such is the re­mark­able and unique beauty of this area, pas­sions are bound to run high. There is, af­ter all, a del­i­cate bal­ance to be struck be­tween con­ser­va­tion, en­joy­ment of the area, and nav­i­ga­tion – the three re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that came with an Act of Par­lia­ment in 1988.

Dr Pack­man is un­der­stand­ably wary of in­ter­views that can re­sult in eye-catch­ing, but mis­lead­ing, head­lines. As I thrust a na­tional news­pa­per clip­ping in front of him with the head­line ‘Water war’, he quickly puts me straight.

Far from a ‘war’ be­tween lo­cal res­i­dents, farm­ers and con­ser­va­tion­ists, it’s a case of all work­ing to­gether on what is “prob­a­bly the big­gest is­sue fac­ing the Broads”, he says.

“Prediction­s sug­gest that we’re go­ing to get wet­ter, warmer win­ters and drier, hot­ter sum­mers. On top of that, cli­mate change is mak­ing the sea rise even fur­ther, so salt water is go­ing to come even fur­ther up our rivers.

“This is one of the most im­por­tant ar­eas for grow­ing food in the coun­try but it’s also one of the most spe­cial places for wa­ter­de­pen­dent wildlife, so we need to

find ways to hold some back for the sum­mer. It’s a longterm is­sue.”

The Broad­land Fu­tures Ini­tia­tive, in part­ner­ship with the En­vi­ron­ment Agency, is seek­ing the views of ev­ery­one likely to be af­fected by ris­ing sea lev­els, ero­sion and flood risk.

And with around 10 main groups with ma­jor in­ter­ests in the Broads – from na­tional na­ture re­serves to farm­ing, from boat hire to her­itage and lo­cal plan­ning – it’s ob­vi­ous Dr Pack­man has to ad­vise his board mem­bers with the ut­most pre­ci­sion to help them make the right de­ci­sions.

You might think such cau­tion would hamper progress but far from it. The Broads Au­thor­ity is pro­mot­ing its status in this 70th year of Na­tional Parks by post­ing up daz­zling im­ages of the area to greet ar­rivals at Nor­wich Air­port and at Great Yar­mouth and Nor­wich rail­way sta­tions. And road­side signs will re­mind vis­i­tors to the Broads they are in a Na­tional Park.

This brand­ing is seen as hugely ben­e­fi­cial to an area that gen­er­ates £600 mil­lion a year and sup­ports 7,000 liveli­hoods. “As a mem­ber of the Na­tional Parks fam­ily, we ben­e­fit from fund­ing and share ex­per­tise on is­sues such as man­ag­ing sus­tain­able tourism,” says Dr Pack­man.

And he is rightly proud that, of the 15 Na­tional Parks, the Broads has the most bio­di­ver­sity.

This is the 30th an­niver­sary year for the Broads Au­thor­ity and Dr Pack­man has been CEO for the past 18. Above all, he un­der­stands the power of part­ner­ships.

“The big things for us this year are de­liv­er­ing on CANAPE – a ma­jor Euro­pean part­ner­ship project – and Water, Mills and Marshes. We are the lead part­ner in CANAPE (Cre­at­ing a New Ap­proach to Peat­land Ecosys­tems), a €5.5 mil­lion project sup­ported by the Euro­pean Re­gional De­vel­op­ment Fund. We’ll get about £600,000 to help with dredg­ing and recre­at­ing a lost reedbed at Hick­ling Broad to ben­e­fit wildlife and nav­i­ga­tion.”

Thou­sands are be­ing in­spired to connect with the Broads through the £4m Water, Mills and Marshes project, sup­ported by the Na­tional Lot­tery Her­itage Fund to the tune of £2.4m.

“We were work­ing last year with all the schools in Low­est­oft, this year with all the schools in Yar­mouth and next year the schools in Nor­wich,” says Dr Pack­man. “Some chil­dren have said their vis­its to the Broads were the best days of their lives.”

A Gov­ern­ment re­view on Na­tional Parks, due to re­port this au­tumn, could present fresh chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties. But Brexit is the cloud on the hori­zon.

“While CANAPE fund­ing is se­cure, we will lose ac­cess to Euro­pean fund­ing pots if Bri­tain leaves the EU. But, more im­por­tantly to me, we’ll have to work even harder to main­tain part­ner­ships.

“We also buy vi­tal equip­ment from Hol­land, so we’re con­cerned about any ad­di­tional costs or

re­stric­tions.” The Euro­pean Habi­tats Di­rec­tive pro­tects 25% of the Broads but Pack­man is hope­ful De­fra would of­fer the same pro­tec­tion post-Brexit.

“The other big is­sue for us is the fu­ture of farm­ing,” says Dr Pack­man, an is­sue he has raised with En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary Michael Gove. “We want to make sure sup­port for the en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly Halver­gate graz­ing marshes will con­tinue.”

Keep­ing the Broads as a liv­ing, work­ing en­vi­ron­ment is cru­cial to its fu­ture and its steady growth in vis­i­tors – around 2-3% a year. The aim is to spread vis­i­tors across the whole area, to dis­cover the south­ern broads, for ex­am­ple.

This is a favourite spot for Dr Pack­man who en­joys ca­noe­ing on the River Waveney with his wife Caroline.

“The Waveney is qui­eter and you can see king­fish­ers and ot­ters, so putting the ca­noe in at Bec­cles and go­ing up to Gelde­ston Lock is one of the things we do on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.” Not all the Pack­mans’ spare time is spent in wa­tery pur­suits.

“Caroline and I prac­tise yoga and we bell ring at a lo­cal church which keeps my brain alert,” he jokes. He will cer­tainly need to be alert in the months ahead.

“Cli­mate change is mak­ing the sea rise even fur­ther, so salt water is go­ing to come even fur­ther up our rivers”

Broads Au­thor­ity chief ex­ec­u­tive John Pack­man gazes out across the Broads

Photo: Jackie Dent

ABOVE: Marsh har­ri­ers have risen steadily on the Broads but re­main on the am­ber list for con­ser­va­tion con­cern

Photo: Matt Usher

ABOVE: John Pack­man at the Royal Nor­folk Show with the Broads dis­play

Credit: Julian Clax­ton

RIGHT: Young peo­ple en­joy a fresh air ad­ven­ture on the Broads at Coltishall

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