25 wild places to get up close to nature in Norfolk

From the Broads to heathlands, by way of coastal marshes and Fen wetlands, Norfolk has a surprisingly diverse range of natural habitats and wildlife. SIMON PARKIN picks 25 wild places where you can get close to nature.


Norfolk Wildlife Trust Cley Marshes is without doubt one of Britain's best nature reserves for bird watching. The many hides provide spectacular views over pools and scrapes, which attract water birds in their thousands. During spring, the pools fill with wading birds such as spotted redshank on their way to Arctic breeding grounds. Sedge, reed and grasshopper warblers can be seen in the reed beds. The award-winning visitor centre has a shop and caf� that enjoys one of the best views in Norfolk. The visitor centre is open all year, 10am-5pm; reserve open daily, free parking and entry.


Ranworth Nature Reserve is a great place to experience the wildlife of the Broads.

You get to the floating visitor's centre along boardwalks with signs explaining its ecology. The centre itself has many hands-on activities and you can take a guided boat trip. During summer, common terns nest on the artificial rafts and great crested grebes can be seen diving for fish. The mature oak woodland is home to many kinds of birds including robins, wrens, warblers and tawny owls. The visitor centre is open daily, 10am-5pm, free entry. Boat trips vary in price according to itinerary.

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The largest Norfolk broad harbours a spectacular variety of plants and animals. There are gentle walks under wide skies for the casual visitor or chances for wildlife lovers to see rare species including swallowtail butterflies, bitterns and cranes. There are variety of themed boat trips and the opportunity to climb a 60ft tree tower and visit bird hides only accessible by boat. The visitor centre is open daily, 10am-5pm, �4.50, children free. Follow the signs to the nature reserve along Stubb Road. Boat trips vary in price according to itinerary.


A small reserve (near Rockland St Mary) providing views over Rockland Broad, the River Yare, reedbeds and open grazing marshes. A hide overlooks the broad, where in spring and summer, kingfishers and great crested grebes can be seen. Along the path, wetland warblers can be seen and barn owls hunt. Reserve open at all times, entry free.


At more than 300 acres, Foxley Wood (signposted from the A1067) is the largest remaining block of ancient woodland in Norfolk and thought to be more than 6,000 years old. The wide tracks or 'rides' support a great variety of woodland grasses and flowers including St John's wort and several species of orchid, plus woodland insects and butterflies. Sparrowhawks and tawny owls breed and you may see woodpecker. Open daily (closed Thurs) 10am-5pm, free entry.


Thorpe Marshes is Norfolk Wildlife Trust's first urban nature reserve. The 25-hectare site (off Yarmouth Road opposite Thunder Lane) consists of dykes that support a wealth of Broadland plants, in turn home to dragonflies and damselflies including Norfolk hawker. Look out for orange-tip and red admiral butterflies, and plants like water soldier, cuckoo flower and yellow flag iris. Reserve open all times, free entry.


This small reserve provides a delightful circular walk around reedbeds, fens and pools. In spring and summer, marsh harriers, kingfishers, water rails, and reed and sedge warblers can be seen. Wetland wild flowers provide a riot of colour. Reserve open all times, free entry.


Situated within the Bure valley, just upstream of Acle, an area of quiet beauty and wildness. It supports some of Broadland's rarest wildlife: from swallowtail butterflies and Norfolk hawker dragonflies to water voles, otters and a host of wetland plants. You will find primeval-looking alder carr woodlands, open water, fens, reed-fringed dykes and grazing marshes. Open daily, from dawn to dusk throughout the year, free entry.


Pensthorpe Nature Reserve supports a wide range of conservation activities. Red squirrels, corncrakes and cranes have all benefited from their assistance. There is an ever-changing list of species, so make sure you take your binoculars. Lots of walks and activities (the Wayland guided tour is excellent), plus a caf� and shops. Open daily, 10am-5pm, �9.75 (�8 cons), �6.25 children.


The Broads at their best. Reedbeds, woodlands and orchid-rich meadows and you could chance upon splendid marsh harriers, secretive bitterns or the bright flash of a kingfisher. In spring and summer the meadows bloom with flowers, and attract an array of dragonflies and butterflies. Open daily, from dawn to dusk until October, �3.50 (�2.50 cons), �1.50 children.


A trip to Titchwell means vast skies and sandy beaches with the hint of sea salt in the air. The reedbeds are alive with the 'pinging' song of bearded tits and the twittering of warblers. Swifts and swallows dart overhead and the lagoons are full of wildlife. There is a caf� while the shop stocks everything necessary for your wildlife wanderings. This reserve also has a very busy programme of guided walks and other themed activities. The visitor centre is open daily, 9.30am-5pm, �4.


A traditionally managed grazing marsh with large numbers of breeding wading birds, and ducks and geese in winter. Guided walks are on offer between October and March. Reserve open at all times, entry free.


Bit of a cheat as this wetland is just over the border in Suffolk (near Hockwold), but it is worth the trip. It has been turned by careful land management from a carrot field to a large wetland, consisting mainly of reedbeds and grazing marshes. It has attracted hundreds of pairs of reed warblers and sedge warblers. Other star birds include bitterns, common cranes, kingfishers, barn owls and hobbies. There is a new visitor centre open daily, 9am-5pm, the reserve is open from dawn to dusk every day, parking �2.


Experience the spectacle of the tens of thousands of ducks, geese and swans. In spring, the marshes are filled with the atmospheric calls of lapwings and redshanks, all breeding on one of the UK's largest expanses of wet grassland. Reserve open at all times, entry free.


At Snettisham (near Hunstanton) on big tides, tens of thousands of wading birds roost on banks and islands in front of the RSPB hides. Large numbers of black-headed gulls and common terns nest when there is a spectacular display of shingle flowers. Reserve open all times, entry free.


The largest local nature reserve managed by Norwich City Council. In Tudor times, Mousehold Heath stretched as far as South Walsham. It may be surrounded by urban sprawl these days, but still teams with wildlife, including birds, lizards, butterflies, dragonflies and small mammals. Open all times, entry free.


This nature reserve (near Gressenhall) represents one of the finest remaining areas of wet unimproved grasslands in Norfolk. It is partly designated SSSI. Otter, water vole and great crested newt. 25 species of butterfly, 24 dragonflies and over 150 species of other invertebrates have been recorded. Reserve open all times, entry free.


With their haunting calls and almost prehistoric looks, it's no surprise that stone curlews are Weeting Heath's most popular attraction; though the thousands of rabbits that keep the turf at just the right length for these rare birds are also a great spectacle. The heath (three miles west of Brandon) is also ideal for a variety of flowering plants and birds such as woodlark and green woodpeckers. The visitor centre is open daily, 9.30am-4.30pm, �4, children free. Reserve open dawn till dusk until September.


Ancient and beautiful, Roydon Common, just outside King's Lynn, is the largest surviving open heath in west Norfolk. It was designated a National Nature Reserve in 1995. In spring and summer key breeding species include nightjar, nightingale, and woodcock. Open daily, from dawn to dusk throughout the year, free entry.


Thompson Common (off the A1075 by Stow Bedon) is famous for its pingos, a series of 300 or so shallow pools with a dazzling array of water plants. It is one of the most important sites in Europe for water beetles and in the UK for dragonflies. Open daily, from dawn to dusk throughout the year, free entry.


Norfolk Wildlife Trust acquired this site (off the A1075 between Watton and Thetford) in 1940. The area has very sandy soils and gets more sun and less rain than almost anywhere else in the country. Look for brown argus, redstart, willow warbler, woodlark, tree pipit and wheatear. Open daily, from dawn to dusk throughout the year, free entry.


One of the north Norfolk coast's most attractive landscapes including sand dunes, freshwater pools, grazing marsh and saltmarsh. Over 320 different bird species have been seen at this beautiful reserve (north of Hunstanton along the A149 coast road). Open daily, 10am to 5pm, �4, children free.


When is man-made wild and vice versa? You get the best of both worlds at National Trust run Sheringham Park. Humphry Repton's fabulous design for this vast park takes in woodlands, parkland and stnning landscaped gardens, where the displays of rhododendrons and azaleas are legendary. There are heaps of walks and breathtaking views from the towers. Open daily, from dawn to dusk throughout the year, entry free.


Barton (on the A1151 Hoveton to Stalham road) is home to key species including bittern, marsh harrier, otter, fen orchid and Desmoulin's whorl snail. In spring and summer there are common tern, black-tailed skimmer and swallowtail butterfly, plus year-round species like great crested grebe, heron, pochard and teal. Open daily, from dawn to dusk throughout the year, free entry.


Set in the heart of the Norfolk Broads (near South Walsham), Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden is a unique garden also rich in wildlife. The garden is an eclectic mix of native and cultivated plantings. Lots of events, shop, caf� and boat trips. Open daily, 10am-5pm, �5.50 (�5 cons), �3 children.