Wildlife watching in the Broads

Discover the wildlife of the Broads

With an ever-changing environment, there’s so much wildlife to discover on the Broads. Whether you’re a casual afternoon observer, armed with little more than a pair of binoculars and a sense of adventure, or a hardened bird-watcher used to hides and early mornings, you won’t be disappointed. Across a wide range of habitats, most carefully managed by community groups and nature reserve trusts, you’ll find everything from grazing marshes to rare carr woodland, estuaries to coastal dunes. You’re never far away from something wonderful.

Birdwatching – what to see

With a wide variety of Broadland environments, there are so many species to observe at Strumpshaw Fen. Visit in spring for the soaring, tumbling courtship displays of the Marsh Harrier, or summer for high-speed Hobbies, hunting dragonflies to feed greedy chicks. Autumn’s highlights include catching a glimpse of the distinctive markings of the wetland specialist – the Bearded Tit. And in winter, the cacophony of ducks dabbling in the shallows and starlings roosting in the reeds, hiding from hungry Peregrines. The site has facilities for daytrippers, hides for enthusiasts and a wheelchair-accessible viewing platform, so everyone has the chance to take in the wildlife.

Wildlife watching – what to see

For an equally thrilling wildlife mini-safari, take a day to explore Upton Broad and Marshes. Also home to a stunning array of habitats, it has over 20 species of dragonflies and 22 of butterfly. Catch the flit of a rare Swallowtail on milkweed blooms, or spot otter prints near the shore. Breydon Water and Berney Marshes span a spectacular area perfect for waterfowl watching: listen for Lapwings and Redshanks, or take a boat trip on a fine autumn day to view the swathes of inbound migrant geese and ducks.

So many habitats to explore

But don’t limit your exploration to freshwater pools and sea-washed estuaries. Park up at Horsey Gap and take a trek along the dunes to one of the many viewing platforms, to witness grey seal pupping season along the shore. Spring bluebells are a sign of ancient woodland and are just one of the seasonal highlights to be found at places like Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden. Wetter carr woodland is home to a distinct combination of water tolerant alder, along with shaggy towers of tussock sedge, where herons make their nests and guelder rose flowers attract thrushes from May to July.

What you’ll need to bring

Whether you choose to visit a managed nature reserve with on-site facilities, viewing platforms and hides, or you strike out on your own armed with a map and a flask, you’ll be surprised at just how little equipment you need to enjoy your time at the The Broads National Park.

Before you go

Two essentials are time and enthusiasm: using your senses to draw in the sights, sounds and smells of the habitat and the creatures that make it their home. Arm yourself with a little information before you go out, or head to one of the many visitor centres for some background details on what you’re likely to encounter. Make sure you’re kitted out with the right walking and outdoor gear too – getting an injury or suffering from exposure to the elements is not a great way to start your wildlife watching adventure.

Recording and sharing what you see

You may want to take a notebook and pencil to write down or sketch what you see and binoculars are also a worthy investment. A guide book may also help you to identify distinct species, so you can tell the difference between the wading birds in the shallows, for example. Whether you use pen and paper or your mobile phone, find your own way of keeping your memories safe but don’t forget that sharing them is important too: there are many conservation projects who love to hear from keen amateurs and we’d love to see your photos on the Broads National Park social media pages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Getting technical, enthusiasts may want to to buy a hide and scope along with a digital camera to record their sightings. Factor in the cost of a tripod and carrying equipment too.

Bringing your dog

Dog friendly

The riverside paths, marshes, woodlands and even the waterways of the Broads National Park offer a fantastic playground for you and your four-legged friend to explore. We’re very dog-friendly here and many self-catering properties and holiday boats welcome dogs, as do many visitor attractions, pubs and eating venues.

There are over 190 miles (300km) of footpaths just waiting to be explored, with circular walks from many villages and moorings. Several long-distance routes run through the area – the Wherryman’s WayAngles Way and Weavers’ Way. There’s also the Norfolk Coast Path, taking in Horsey and Winterton, and the first part of the Three Rivers Way walking and cycling route, between Hoveton and Horning.

Two outstanding historical sites in the Broads are happy to welcome dogs. Burgh Castle, overlooking Breydon Water where the rivers Yare and Waveney meet, is the remains of a third-century Roman fort. It’s a lovely place for a walk as well as somewhere to absorb the history of the Broads and to enjoy one of the best views in the national park. Please keep dogs on a lead along the boardwalk so they are not tempted to jump into the reedbeds, where birds such as the rare marsh harrier nest between March and July. On the River Bure, and near the rivers Ant and Thurne too, you’ll find the ruins of St Benet’s Abbey. There are also lovely walks to the abbey from the village of Ludham and from Ludham Bridge.

Things to remember

We want the Broads to be enjoyed by everyone whether you’re a dog-lover or not, so here are a few things worth remembering if you plan to visit with your four-legged friend:

  • Dogs are allowed on footpaths, bridleways and byways (public rights of way) under effective control
  • On areas known as open access land, dogs must be kept on a short lead between 1 March and 31 July to help protect ground-nesting birds, and all year round near farm animals
  • On land next to the England Coast Path dogs must be kept under close control
  • Routes called permissive paths may not allow dogs
  • Many nature reserves don’t allow dogs
  • Always clear up after dogs
  • Check access for dogs with places you plan to visit
  • Keep dogs close by, under control and in sight
  • Keep dogs on leads if you can’t rely on their obedience
  • Don’t let dogs wander near people, wildlife or livestock, or disturb them
  • Never enter the water to rescue a pet – you are putting your own life at risk (read more on safety near the water)
  • For places to visit try thebarkingbugle.co.uk

If you want more information read The Countryside Code. If you have a problem, contact the local authority or the Kennel Club – 01296 318540 or www.thekennelclub.org.uk

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