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Wild about winter - 12 great places to get close up to nature in East Anglia

PUBLISHED: 08:00 05 January 2019 | UPDATED: 18:48 06 January 2019

A seal popping up its head at Blakeney Point Picture: PAUL GEATER

A seal popping up its head at Blakeney Point Picture: PAUL GEATER

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Beautiful East Anglia offers opportunities to see wildlife all the year round, including during the winter. Here are 12 great places to get close to nature.

A stunning shot of a kingfisher with its catch at Lackford Lakes. Picture: RON SMITHA stunning shot of a kingfisher with its catch at Lackford Lakes. Picture: RON SMITH

Even in the depths of winter, there’s still a host of wildlife to see all around the area.

Bewick swans at RSPB Minsmere Picture: CHARLES CUTHBERTBewick swans at RSPB Minsmere Picture: CHARLES CUTHBERT

Wading birds, swans, grey seals, deer and otters are all among the creatures you can spot during the coldest months of the year. East Anglia is full of wonderful places to observe nature, so this is just a taster of some of the best places to start, Visit their websites for more information and details of any admission charges.

Seals on the beach at Blakeney Point Picture: PAUL GEATERSeals on the beach at Blakeney Point Picture: PAUL GEATER

1. RSPB Minsmere, near Leiston: This internationally-famed reserve in East Suffolk has a unique, rich landscape which attracts a host of birdlife. In winter, flocks of ducks gather on the Scrape and the grazing marshes, with some amazing bright plumage on show. Other birds you might see vary from marsh harriers and hen harriers to bitterns and bearded tits. Winter is also the best time to see an otter, with the creatures occasionally being spotted in the reedbed pools or on the Island Mere. Red deer can often be seen in the woods and fields. As well as Minsmere itself, the surrounding coast and countryside is also rich in wildlife, including the National Trust’s nearby Dunwich Heath and Beach reserve.

Cormorants spreading their wings at Lackford Lakes Picture: RON SMITHCormorants spreading their wings at Lackford Lakes Picture: RON SMITH

2. Blakeney Point, near Holt: The seal colony at Blakeney Point is an amazing sight, with hundreds of seals basking on the beach. Operated by the National Trust, the reserve is home to the largest seal colony in England, with more than 2,700 pups having been born during winter 2017. The Grey seals give birth between November and January and you can see the pups with their mums by taking a boat trip from Morston Quay. Booking in advance is strongly recommended. During the winter you may also see birds including mallard, teal, wigeon, pintails and pink-footed geese.

A robin puffing itself out at Lackford Lakes. Picture: RON SMITHA robin puffing itself out at Lackford Lakes. Picture: RON SMITH

3. Lackford Lakes, near Bury St Edmunds: Operated by Suffolk Wildlife Trust, this West Suffolk reserve includes reedbeds, meadows and woodland as well as its lakes, meaning there is wildlife to see all year round. The birds which can be seen on the lakes during the winter include the lapwing, goosander, shoveler, bittern and goldeneye.

Two Greylag Geese, staying in close flight formation. This picture was taken at NWT Cley Marshes. Picture: John AsshetonTwo Greylag Geese, staying in close flight formation. This picture was taken at NWT Cley Marshes. Picture: John Assheton

Keen Suffolk wildlife photographer Ron Smith, from Sudbury, has taken many great pictures here and chose this as one of his favourite places to visit, together with RSPB Minsmere, RSPB Lakenheath Fen and RSPB Snettisham and Titchwell. We are so lucky in Suffolk and Norfolk to have so much amazing wildlife on our doorstep.”

Winter colours on Cley marshes Picture: Brad DammsWinter colours on Cley marshes Picture: Brad Damms

4. Cley Marshes, near Holt: Norfolk Wildlife’s oldest and best-known reserve attracts large numbers of wintering and migrating wildfowl and waders, as well as the bittern, bearded tit and marsh harrier. Birds to look out for during winter visits include wigeon, pintail, brent geese and various seabirds. The new Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre has films, touchscreens and displays, offering the chance to learn more about the wildlife.

A frosty scene at RSPB Minsmere Picture: CHARLES CUTHBERTA frosty scene at RSPB Minsmere Picture: CHARLES CUTHBERT

5. RSPB Snettisham, near King’s Lynn: During winter, large numbers of waterfowl can be seen on the lagoons and out on the Wash. Thousands of pink-footed geese, migrating from Iceland and Greenland, assemble at RSPB Snettisham between October and February. If you visit at first light, you can see the spectacular sight of the geese in flight, in V-shaped formations, as they move from the mudflats of The Wash inland to feed, before returning at dusk. Other birds to see here during winter include the bar-tailed godwit and shelduck. peregrines and hen harriers, which hunt on the salt marshes, and goldeneyes, which gather on the lagoon.

6. Abberton Reservoir, near Colchester: Ducks, swans and other waterfowl all spend the winter at Abberton, near the village of Layer de la Haye, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and also has several other designations because of its importance to wildlife. Essex Wildlife Trust’s adjacent nature reserve and visitor centre offer panoramic views across the reservoir. Birds seen here in winter include the smew, goosander, peregrine falcon, goldeneye and many more.

7. RSPB Titchwell, near King’s Lynn: Including a sandy beach as well as reedbeds, saltmarsh and lagoons, this reserve is an important habitat for winter wildfowl and wading birds. Otter and water voles are also established on the site. The reserve has recently recorded great numbers of wintering ducks, including a record number of teal and many goldeneyes. Marsh harriers also roost here and many other birds can be seen - the reserve recorded 214 different species in all during 2018.

8. Trimley Marshes, near Felixstowe: Alongside the River Orwell, this 200-acre Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserve is yet another good place to see overwintering birds, including wigeon, teal, Brent geese and redshank. Although this reserve is open at all times, there is a two-mile walk from the nearest car park to the hides, which can be muddy, so wrap up warm! Also in the Felixstowe area, Landguard Nature Reserve is another great place to see migrating birds, flora and fauna.

9. Welney Wetland Centre, near Wisbech: This well-known wetland centre, run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, is in the heart of the Fens, just next to the Norfolk border with Cambridgeshire. Huge flocks of swans, including up to 9,000 Whooper and Bewick swans, can be seen here during winter, as well as thousands of ducks and wading birds. If you’d like to admire wildlife in a comfort, you can watch a swan feed from a centrally-heated hide at 3.30pm daily until March 10, with a live commentary from the guide. It is advisable to arrive at the centre at least half an hour before the swan feed starts.

10. Fingringhoe Wick, near Colchester: Overlooking the Colne estuary, this Essex Wildlife Trust reserve is a great place to see wintering birds. You are recommended to visit during the two hours either side of high tide for the best views. Birds you may see include Brent geese, golden plover, green plover, knot, kingfisher, lapwing, dunlin and many more.

11. Hickling Broad, near Potter Heigham: The whole of Broadland is amazingly rich in wildlife, and, as the largest of the Broads, Hickling Broad is a haven for nature. The Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s reserve has become home to a number of common cranes, who usually fly into the reeds to roost during the winter months and can be seen from the Stubb Mill viewing platform. A large gathering of marsh harriers can also be seen roosting on the edge of the Broad.

12. RSPB Lakenheath Fen, near Thetford: This site was once carrot fields, but since 1995 it has been turned into a fenland wildlife reserve. Birds to see here in winter include timid water rails, bearded tits and teal, gadwall, tufted duck, wigeon, marsh harrier and shoveler. You may also spot cranes in flight over the reedbeds. Thousands of rooks and jackdaws also roost in the woods here during the winter. Nearby Thetford Forest is an important wildlife haven all year round, with a large population of deer - and is the gateway to the Brecks, one of Britain’s most important wildlife areas.

As well as visiting nature sites around the area, you can also often spot wildlife in your own garden and home area. The Broads Authority is offering the opportunity for schools, community groups and individuals to borrow a “Wild Watch camera trap” free of charge from four centres in the Broads National Park, You can capture footage of visiting creatures during the day, or after dark. Hedgehogs, foxes, deer, stoats and weasels may all be caught on camera, as well as a range of winter birds. The cameras are usually booked up some weeks ahead. For more details, visit http://watermillsandmarshes.org.uk/wildwatch/

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