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South Creake · North Norfolk
The North Norfolk Coast is home to some of the UK’s finest birdwatching sites. The region has over 12,000 acres of nature reserves, including Cley Marshes, Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s oldest and best-known reserve. The marshes, covering 430 acres, have an international reputation for being one of the finest birdwatching sites in Britain. The reserve supports large numbers of wintering and migrating wildfowl and waders, as well as other bird species such as bittern, marsh harrier, and bearded tits. Norfolk offers a wealth of nature reserves and rare visiting birds, making it an ideal destination for birdwatching all year round.
BEST BIRDWATCHING SPOTS
Holkham National Nature Reserve is England’s largest national nature reserve, covering 9,000 acres from Burnham Norton to Blakeney. The reserve's core section, from Wells to Holkham Bay, features footpaths through the pinewoods, which provide access to most of the area from the main car parks, one of which is the Beach Road car park next to Pinewoods. We recommend that you pick the place of starting point by deciding what part you want to explore as the area the reserve covers is big and borders against other reserves.
Pinewoods is situated in the middle of Burnham Norton and Blakeney and close to Wells-Next-The-Sea beach. From Pinewoods, Holkham Beach is about a two-mile walk westwards along the edge of the woods or on the edge of the beach. Holkham Beach is accessible via Lady Anne's Drive on the A149 opposite The Victoria Inn. From the car parks at the reserve, Holkham Nature Reserve Pay and Display Car Park, you can walk west to get to Burnham Overy Staithe. The parking fee is £10 for the whole day.
You can experience the natural wonders, including grazing marsh, woodland, salt marsh, sand dunes, and foreshore on a walk beginning at Burnham Overy Staithe. There is a car park, but it can get overflooded at times when the tides are high. Following Overy Creek to the beach at Holkham Bay, passing the harbour on the way. You can continue east to Wells-Next-The-Sea, before reaching Stiff key Salt Marsh that boasts vast open expanses of salt marshes with a plethora of birdlife, including waders and wintering wildfowl. You can continue to Morston where you can catch a boat to Blakeney Point Nature Reserve (different reserve) with its colonies of seals.
The final stretch takes you through Blakeney to Cley-Next-The-Sea and the Cley Marshes Reserve (different reserve). The Cley Marshes Nature Reserve is a 430-acre reserve containing reed beds, freshwater marsh, pools, and wet meadows, with a huge variety of wildlife, including pink-footed geese, white-fronted geese, brent geese, wigeon, and waders. The breeding season for shorebirds begins at Holkham National Nature Reserve each year from around the start of April to the end of August.
Trails & Tours:
sand dunes, coastline, shingle ridges, salt marshes, open pasture, farmland, parkland, and scrub
06:00 - 18:00
Guided day tours available at £50, offered by Naturetrek
Managed by the National Trust, it spans 1,200 acres of diverse habitats including salt marshes, tidal mudflats, and reclaimed farmland. It's a haven for a variety of bird species, including the sandwich and little terns, artic terns, ringed plovers, oystercatchers, and common redshanks. The reserve's four-mile-long shingle spit provides protection for Blakeney Harbour and surrounding saltmarshes, making it an internationally important site for both summer breeding terns and winter breeding grey seals. Further along the freshwater reedbeds provide excellent habitat for breeding ducks, geese, and wading birds.
Blakeney Nature Reserve is also a breeding ground for common and grey seals and is home to many sea-bird colonies. The common seals give birth to a single pup in June or July and then moult in August. Since the 1980s the grey seal population has boomed in the area. They give birth to their single, white-coated pups in November and December. A range of plants flourish in the area, including marram grass, yellow stonecrop, thrift, sea campion, sea lavender, and yellow horned poppies. Terns, snow bunting, oystercatcher, lark, ringed plover, and geese can all be spotted within the reserve.
There is a car park, Blakeney Carnser Car Park, at the reserve for £6 all day for non-NT member. You can also park your car at High St Car Park, southeast from the reserve. The North Norfolk Coastal Path borders the reserve, but visitors should check the tide tables before planning a walk. The North Norfolk Coastal Path starts at Morston and ends at Cley-Next-The-Sea. There is also a free car park at the Cley-Next-The-Sea.
Visitors can enjoy ferry trips from Morston Quay (to the west of the reserve) to see the abundant wildlife on Blakeney Point, while the Stiff key Saltmarshes (further west) offer excellent opportunities to observe wading birds and wildfowl during the winter months. There is a free car park (Stiff key Saltmarshes). At Morston Quay National Trust (access to Morston Quay) you can park for £6 regardless of the time your car is parked there.
Located between the villages of Titchwell and Thornham, is a 420-acre nature reserve managed by the RSPB. The reserve attracts rare breeding birds such as pied avocets, marsh harriers, bitterns, and bearded reedlings. Water rails, little egrets, reed, and sedge warblers are common, and ducks and geese winter at Titchwell in considerable numbers. It is a diverse habitat that includes reedbeds, saltmarsh, and freshwater lagoons, where a variety of wildlife such as avocets, bearded tits, marsh harriers, and bitterns nest. The sandy beach offers extensive views across The Wash.
The recently added wildlife garden serves as a miniature replica of the reserve and is filled with easy-to-copy ideas for creating wildlife habitats at home. The visitor center and shop are wheelchair-friendly, and the pathways around the reserve are flat and accessible. Registered Assistance Dogs are welcome, but other dogs are only permitted in certain areas.
There are eight blue badge spaces (look out points) 130 metres from the visitor centre entrance and another 120 car park spaces just a short walk away. The visitor centre and the shop are wheelchair friendly and the pathways around the reserve are flat, boardwalks and a rolled sand and gravel surface. There is an accessible toilet in the main toilet block near the car park.
Pensthorpe Natural Park, located in the picturesque Wensum Valley, is a vast 700-acre nature reserve situated just 11 miles from the coast. It boasts an impressive collection of over 500 endangered and exotic waterbirds, making it one of the finest in Europe. Come April, you'll hear the call of the cuckoo, while chiffchaffs make an appearance in spring. Late spring sees the arrival of avocets, while winter months offer sightings of wigeon and fieldfare. If you visit in the summer, listen out for the melodic song of sedge warblers.
Explore the site's four stunning gardens, or take a trail through the wetlands, hedgerows, woodlands, riverbanks, farmland, and water meadows. You'll have plenty of opportunities to get up close with the feathered residents of the park by ducking into one of the bird hides along the way.
Holme Dunes is a stunning 470-acre National Nature Reserve, overseen by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, featuring a range of habitats such as sand dunes, salt marsh, pasture, and freshwater grazing marsh. You'll find bird lovers frequenting the reserve as it's a great spot to catch a glimpse of a variety of bird species, including wryneck, yellow-browed, and barred warblers, which are rare migrants. The reserve also boasts important habitats that provide a home for various other species such as natterjack toads, butterflies, and dragonflies, as well as an abundance of interesting plants.
To start exploring, park your car in the NWT car park on the left-hand side of the track. The entrance to the nature reserve and start of the trails is beside the visitor centre, which offers an array of facilities such as information, displays, books, gifts, and refreshments. You'll find three birdwatching hides that overlook grazing marsh and pools, with disabled access to the first. If you're visiting with children, Wildlife Detective Bumbags are free to hire. The reserve leaflet provides you with extensive walks, and the long-distance coastal footpath runs through the site.
Holme Dunes is home to various bird species all year round, including curlew, bar-tailed godwit, knot, ringed plover, redshank, and lapwing. During spring/summer, look out for avocet, little tern, black-tailed godwit, and ring ouzel, while in autumn/winter, you'll find wigeon, pink-footed goose, brent goose, snow bunting, long-tailed duck, Slavonian grebe, twite, spotted redshank, redstart, and pied flycatcher. To access Holme Marsh, you need to head through Holme village, while Thornham Harbour, which is the eastern end of the main reserve, is accessible from Thornham village. Non-NWT members need to pay a fee, while the Lynx Coastliner bus stops on the main road 3km (1.9 miles) away.
The reserve is open daily throughout the year between 10am-5pm (or dusk, if earlier, during winter). When the visitor centre is closed, there is an honesty box for permit fees beside the entrance door.
Snettisham Reserve is a 140-acre wetland habitat managed by the RSPB, offering breath-taking views of tens of thousands of waders taking flight, especially during sunset. Throughout the year, visitors can spot avocets, terns, knots, wigeons, Brent geese, and waterfowl. There are three wildlife observation hides, including two all-weather, wheelchair-friendly options, and a 2km walking trail. Keep an eye out for peregrines and hen harriers, which can often be spotted hunting on the saltmarsh. Visitors to the 6.9-km out-and-back trail near King's Lynn can enjoy a relaxed birdwatching, hiking, or running experience, with few others around to disturb the peace. Dogs are welcome but must be on a lead.
During late summer's highest tides, the incoming water pushes tens of thousands of wading birds off the vast mudflats, creating a spectacular sight. In spring, black-headed gulls and avocets make their homes on the islands, and wading birds in their colourful breeding plumage pass through on their way to the Arctic. Early risers may spot barn owls hunting over the saltmarsh at dawn and dusk. In summer, the shingle blossoms with yellow-horned poppies and viper's bugloss, while common terns are in the midst of their breeding season. Later in the summer, visitors can witness flocks of knots wheeling in vast numbers at sunset.
As autumn sets in, thousands of thrushes and finches migrate overhead, and wigeon and brent geese arrive back from their breeding grounds, calling noisily to one another. Winter sees huge numbers of waterfowl gathering on the lagoons and out in The Wash, with peregrines and hen harriers actively hunting on the saltmarsh. Goldeneyes also gather on the lagoons, displaying in preparation for the coming spring.
Watatunga is a unique wildlife reserve nestled in 170 acres of unspoiled wetland. Their pioneering approach to conservation aims to protect the planet's last populations of near-extinct deer, antelope, and rare birds. Not content with just breeding them through international programmes, they also collaborate with universities and international research organisations to create sustainable populations of these magnificent creatures. A visit to Watatunga offers you the rare opportunity to meet some of the world's most extraordinary animals, including the white-naped crane, hog deer and blesbok. By visiting the reserve and supporting their conservation efforts, you are contributing to the preservation of these amazing species and preventing them from becoming extinct.
The tour season runs from April to October every year, with guided buggy tours available every day of the week except Mondays and Fridays during off-peak times, and seven days a week during school holidays and half-terms. Each tour lasts approximately 90 minutes, and they provide five 4-seater electric golf buggies, one 6-seater, and one wheelchair-accessible option per tour. When you book a buggy, you get the entire vehicle for your party, and one member of your party will drive the buggy.
NWT Cley and Salthouse Marshes offers stunning views across pools and scrapes specially managed to attract breeding and passage birds. There are six hides, four of which can be accessed via boardwalks. The visitor centre offers interactive interpretation, changing exhibitions, and a gift and book shop that is well-stocked. The visitor centre and some paths are fully accessible for wheelchair users. Please note that dogs are not allowed on the reserve.
Cley and Salthouse Marshes is a popular destination for birders, given the large number of rare birds that have been spotted there over the years. The reserve's location in the middle of the Norfolk coastline makes it ideally placed to receive scarce visitors, as well as thousands of common ones. The reserve is also home to a variety of marine life, such as Tompot blenny, crabs, anemones, sea squirts and sea slugs, found around various shipwrecks, and as part of the Cromer Shoal Chalk Reef. The marsh harrier can often be spotted here, making it one of the best places in the UK to see this bird.
Some of the rarest birds spotted include a white-crowned sparrow from North America, a Pacific swift, a red-necked stint from Asia, and a rock sparrow from southern Europe. During the winter months, Salthouse beach in the eastern part of the reserve becomes a hub of activity as snow buntings flock to the area. In particularly lucky years, Lapland buntings and shore larks may also be spotted. While there are many species of interest that utilize the reserve during summer and winter, the best time to spot rare birds is during spring and autumn. The Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre provides popular events, workshops, performances, guided walks, and seasonal festivals. There is also a large café that serves tasty local produce and offers panoramic views over the marshes and coastline.
To access the reserve, visitors can park at the visitor centre car park and cross the road using a pedestrian crossing to enter the reserve. There is a hardened path leading to a boardwalk on the left, with passing areas, to the hides, and a path on the right that leads to Bishops Hide. Continuing in this direction leads to East Bank, which is a raised bank with a hardened path that stretches towards the beach, overlooking the reserve. The reserve can be circumnavigated by a series of walking tracks.
Birds of North Norfolk
Whether you're a seasoned birdwatcher or just starting out, North Norfolk is a fantastic place to visit for spectacular sightings of unique and common birds. With nature reserves and child-friendly visitor centres, it's also a great place for children to begin to learn about birds.
In Spring, birds of prey can be seen dancing in the sky, and nature reserves are home to wading birds with their colourful breeding plumage passing through on their way to the Arctic. You can hear the songs of newly arrived swifts and warblers filling the reedbeds, woods, and hedgerows. Look out for local speciality species such as breeding marsh harrier, little egret, and avocet. Scarcer birds such as osprey, spoonbill, ring ouzel, and firecrest can also be spotted.
Summer is the time to keep an eye out for spotted redshanks and wood, green, and common sandpipers. You may even catch a glimpse of a pectoral sandpiper or red-necked phalarope.
In Autumn, birdwatching is dominated by migration, with large numbers of geese and ducks returning for the winter, along with thousands of thrushes and finches returning from their summer breeding grounds. Winter residents such as robins, starlings, and goldcrests also arrive, and you may even spot a wryneck.
Winter in North Norfolk is famous for its largest and most varied concentrations of geese in the country. The pink-footed geese arrive from their breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland to spend the winter here. Birds of prey such as hen harrier, peregrine, merlin, and short-eared owl can also be seen, and the spectacular sight of raptors coming into roost in the Broads is not to be missed.