New “Sisters’ Garden” opens at Flatford Wildlife Garden

Clare Westley

Monday 10 September 2018

RSPB's Flatford Wildlife Garden, Suffolk

New wildlife pond and invertebrate habitats in “Sister’s Garden” will provide new homes for nature at Flatford Wildlife Garden.

  • New area will provide more homes for nature in the RSPB’s only dedicated wildlife garden nature reserve.

  • “People’s Wall for Wildlife” makes use of traditional building materials to provide habitat for insects and other invertebrates.

  • Wildlife pond already home to 15 animal species, which have colonised since April this year. 

  • Sustainable design features include an underground 7,500 litre water tank to collect and store rainwater for use in the dry summer months.

Tuesday 11 September sees the public opening of the “Sister’s Garden” at RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden, after work to create the new area, complete with wildlife pond and new invertebrate habitats, finished this month.

Jointly funded by Essex & Suffolk Water, and Dedham Vale AONB Sustainable Development Fund, the new garden has been created with nature and wildlife in mind, and applies sustainable design principles including the use of drought tolerant plants and a rainwater harvesting system.

Named for Sylvia and Margaret Richardson, who bequeathed the garden to the RSPB in their wills nearly 20 years ago, the Sisters’ Garden is both a memorial to their love of nature and a living legacy for wildlife and the people who visit the garden to experience and enjoy it.

Since being filled with water this spring, the new pond has already been colonised by an array of wildlife including newts, greater diving beetles, and water boatmen, showing the value of water for wildlife. Easy access to the pond, which has a boardwalk, has also made it a big hit with visitors of all ages eager to see what creatures they can spot on and below the surface.

East Anglia is one of the driest areas of the country, with an annual rainfall in 2017 half that of the UK as a whole. As our summers become drier and warmer, we will need to think of new ways of cope with the effects of climate change. With water conservation in mind, the garden’s design incorporates a 7,500 litre underground water tank, which collects and stores rainwater from the adjacent barn for use in the garden in periods of low rainfall.

Plants in the borders provide a long season of nectar and pollen to help bees, butterflies and other pollinators which are integral to the environment, and are currently declining at an alarming rate.

The People’s Wall for Wildlife

Another stand out feature of the garden is the new “Peoples’ Wall for Wildlife”, built by Cobnuts Co-operative with the help of local community groups. Using traditional building materials of flint, cob and thatch, combined with pottery sculptures made by local groups, the wall provides living spaces for insects and invertebrates.

Rick Vonk, Site Manager for RSPB Stour Estuary Reserves says: 

“We are grateful to Essex and Suffolk Water, and the Dedham Vale AONB Sustainable development fund, for supporting the project; to Cobnuts, who created the wonderful Peoples’ Wall for Wildlife; and also our amazing volunteers who have dug in (often quite literally!) to help us create this fantastic space for wildlife and people. And not forgetting Sylvia and Margaret Richardson, without whose generous legacy this wonderful garden would not exist. We hope it continues to inspire people with ideas that they can take home and re-create in their own garden, as well as being a space for everyone to enjoy the wonders of the natural world around them.”

Susie Jenkins, from Cobnuts says: 

"Working throughout spring and summer in the new Sisters' Garden affirmed our faith in the joy the natural world can bring. Maybe this is why so many people want to help wildlife. Our thanks goes out to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Council for enabling over two hundred people to do just that with this community artwork. As autumn approaches, we hope to see the People's Wall give as warm a welcome to wildlife as the RSPB gave to us."

David Alborough, Group Property Services Manager for Essex & Suffolk Water says: 

“We’re really pleased to have been able to contribute towards to the development of Flatford Wildlife Garden, which has been turned into a fantastic asset for the community that will be enjoyed and treasured by people of all ages. We are particularly impressed with the underground water tank to collect and store rainwater, which will hopefully inspire others to think about how they can make the most of water in their own gardens.”            

Cllr Nigel Chapman, Chair of the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Joint Advisory Committee (JAC) says:

“It has been a great achievement by the RSPB over the years to create such a welcoming garden, for visitors and wildlife alike. The garden enhances the ‘Constable Country’ experience and is a valuable development in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and we have been pleased to help with funding its progress.”

Shirley Sampson, Head Gardener at Flatford Wildlife Garden says: 

“I was delighted to be entrusted with the design of this garden. In my vision for it, it is a tranquil space where people can relax and be surrounded by a beautiful garden, which is also alive - bees and butterflies amongst the flower borders, and dragonflies flitting overhead and swooping over the pond. As with the rest of Flatford Wildlife Garden, I hope that people will be inspired to adopt one or two simple ideas in their own gardens to help our struggling garden creatures.”

Visiting Flatford Wildlife Garden this autumn

The garden is open every day from 10.30 am to 4.30 pm throughout the autumn. There’s never a bad time to visit, but for anyone looking for a special excuse these are just a couple of the events and activities taking place in the garden this autumn:

  • Sunday 23 September: Apple Day – Come and join us for an apple-themed wildlife day

  • Monday 22 to Friday 26 October: Half term family activities in the garden

Find out more about these and other events and activities in the garden the autumn, visit



Coast on a stormy day

Rupert Masefield

Communications Manager, England Policy & Advocacy
07872 814878
Tagged with: Country: England Topic: Garden birds Topic: Giving Nature a Home Topic: People Topic: Reserves