Explore some less frequented nature reserves

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It’s National Nature Reserves Week (20 to 31 May 2024) where we celebrate the wild and wonderful nature on our doorsteps. Here, we take a look around some of the quieter reserves that you might not have heard of, in or close to the National Park.

Surlingham Church Marshes

Robin at Surlingham Church Marshes by Lorraine Taylor
Robin at Surlingham Church Marshes © Lorraine Taylor

This small RSPB nature reserve is very quiet, is great for bird watching and there’s some nice walks close by. There's wet willow woodland on either side of the lane leading to the river, and look out for the bright yellow marsh marigolds. Nearby is the village church and the ruins of St Saviour's Church, where Norfolk naturalist Ted Ellis and Phyllis Ellis are buried. Ted described the Broads as 'a breathing space for the cure of souls'.

There’s also a nice walk from there to the Ferry House pub for lunch by the river Yare. See this website for more information:

North Cove Nature Reserve

This nature reserve situated just near Beccles in Suffolk. Whether in summer – when you can expect to see an abundance of flowers, basking grass snakes and numerous invertebrates on the wing or in winter when flocks of siskins cloud round alders – it is well worth setting aside an hour or two to take in this secret patchwork of protected wildness.

See marsh plants like ragged-robin and yellow rattle along with the nationally scarce marsh fern. Bog pimpernel occurs in the meadow and opposite-leaved golden saxifrage can be found near the old decoy pond – a legacy of when this spot was part of a 19th century shooting estate.

As well as woodcock, who can be seen zig-zagging between the trees, the woodland is also now a sanctuary for warbler, siskin, redpoll and all three types of woodpecker. The patient and the lucky may also glimpse sparrowhawks hunting in dense cover - flying on razor-like wings with their brown-barred chests almost touching the ground. See this website for more information: https://www.visitthebroads.co.uk/things-to-do/wildlife/nature-reserves/product-detail?listing=3&key=749741

Thorpe Marshes

A vibrant landscape of river, bordered on each side by bright green
Thorpe Marshes © Richard Osbourne

The site is a wonderful mixture of habitats: flower- rich marshes criss-crossed with dykes that are home to many dragonfly and damselfly species, including the rare Norfolk hawker, and the even larger emperor dragonfly. Several species of common butterfly can also be encountered on a good day. The reserve contains a large area of open water – a former gravel works. You may see Chinese water deer, muntjac, foxes and although they live here, rare water voles are very shy so you probably won’t see them. See this website for more information: https://www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/wildlife-in-norfolk/nature-reserves/reserves/thorpe-marshes

See this blog for a walking route:

Also nearby is the Thorpe Ferry café and ferry to the opposite side of the river. See their website for more information: https://thorpeferry.com/cafe/

Hoveton Great Broad – Nature trail

This magical place is only accessible by boat, or on a boat trip from Salhouse Broad. It’s a hidden gem on an island -  a perfect place to move from the busy river Bure to the peace and tranquillity of a Broad that’s closed to people but open to nature.  

Watch common terns on a special platform, enjoy the birdsong and dappled light of the alder Carr wet woodland as you follow the boardwalk, learning about the Broad’s landscape as you go. Plan your visit here: https://hovetongreatbroad.org.uk/visit-hoveton-great-broad-nature-trail/

Getting there

Take a train or bus from Norwich to Salhouse, then walk to Salhouse Broad. Hire a canoe and paddle a short distance across the Broad and upstream 5-10 mins. Or take a train or bus to Wroxham. Hire a canoe or day boat (electric options available), and cruise/paddle downstream (approx. 35-40 mins cruise from Wroxham, or 1 hour paddle).

Whatever way you choose, it's adventure to get there and a pleasure to experience.

Strumpshaw Fen

Swallowtail butterfly (large yellow black and blue butterfly) resting on green foliage in the background
Swallowtail butterfly © Mark Collins - Swallowtail and Birdwing Butterfly Trust

RSPB Strumpshaw Fen sits alongside the River Yare and supports a fantastic range of Broadland habitats and is home to the rare Swallowtail butterfly, which can be spotted from June to early July, and then from mid-August through to September.

With an abundance of Swallowtail’s food (Milk parsley plant), the butterflies can be seen on Fen Trail and the garden near the reserve entrance, as well as in the front garden of the nearby 'Doctors cottage'.

Also enjoy a walk round the reedbeds, woodlands and orchid-rich meadows. For kids, there’s a den building area along the adventure trail. Next to the river is the recently-restored Strumpshaw Steam Engine Pump House, and al-fresco cuppas on offer from the visitor centre.

Check the RSPB blog for Swallowtail sightings: https://community.rspb.org.uk/placestovisit/strumpshawfen/b/strumpshawfen-blog

Taverham Mill

Taverham Mill is situated 6 miles out of Norwich, just outside the National Park but the River Wensum runs through it. With four lakes, an old weir and mill pool, Taverham Mill attracts anglers, walkers and nature lovers and boasts some picturesque views.

You can head through grassland, woodland, water meadow and wild flower meadow in the Wensum valley, with bird hides for bird watching and it’s popular with anglers due to its well-stocked lakes. There is a visitor centre, toilets (including baby changing facilities) and a children’s play area, buggy and wheelchairs trails along well-marked paths.

Entry prices: Adult £6, Children £4 and a Family ticket £16.50 (2 adults and 2 children). More information here: https://anglianwaterparks.co.uk/taverham-mill

We hope this blog will inspire your visit to some of the quieter nature reserves, so you can get off the beaten track this National Nature Reserves week.