The best birdwatching sites around Wells-next-the-Sea
With a central location on the North Norfolk Coast, Wells enjoys easy access to some of the best birdwatching sites in the UK. From Snettisham Reserve in the west to Cley Marshes in the east, there are over 12,000 acres of nature reserves providing protected habitats for both resident and migrant birds.
The North Norfolk Coast offers a diverse range of habitats including salt marshes, reed beds, saline lagoons, shingle banks and sandy beaches, supporting large numbers of wintering and migrating wildfowl and waders, in addition to the resident bird populations.
And where there are birds, there are birdwatchers, who come from all over the world to appreciate the wealth of birding opportunities offered by the region. The reserves at Titchwell, Cley and Holkham each receive over 100,000 visitors every year.
The popularity of the reserves brings funds for investment, and visitors are now greeted by large, modern, child-friendly visitor centres with cafés, shops, educational resources and viewing areas, accessible pathways and well-maintained hides.
Holkham National Nature Reserve stretches from Burnham Norton to Blakeney and covers over 9,000 acres, making it England’s largest National Nature Reserve. The core section from Wells to Holkham Bay is crisscrossed by paths allowing access through the pinewoods.
Habitats include dunes, salt marshes, sand flats, mudflats and grazing marsh.
In summer there are common and little terns, avocets, larks, pipits and marsh harriers. Winter brings snow buntings, shore larks and red-breasted geese. Skeins of pink-footed and Brent geese can be seen arriving and departing daily from their roosts to their feeding grounds.
The Lookout is a new visitor centre offering an education centre, refreshments area and spectacular views.
The Lookout, Holkham National Nature Reserve
Lady Anne’s Drive, Holkham NR23 1RG
Located between the villages of Titchwell and Thornham, Titchwell Marsh is a 420 acre nature reserve managed by the RSPB. It is blessed with diverse habitats including reedbeds, saltmarsh and freshwater lagoons with a wide sandy beach offering views across The Wash.
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.
There is a visitor centre and café, wheelchair and pushchair friendly paths, and easily accessible hides. The RSPB offers guided walks three times a week plus seasonal events and workshops.
Snettisham Reserve is a 140 acre RSPB-administered wetland habitat that includes reedbeds, tidal mudflats, saltmarsh, lagoons and shingle beaches. The spectacle of tens of thousands of waders moving ahead of the incoming tide and taking flight, particularly at sunset, is a unique and exhilarating experience.
In spring and summer you can see avocets, common terns and knots. In autumn and winter wigeon and Brent geese arrive back from their breeding grounds, and huge numbers of waterfowl gather on the lagoons and out in The Wash year-round. Peregrines and hen harriers actively hunt on the saltmarsh.
There are three wildlife observation hides (two are all-weather and wheelchair friendly) offering views across the lagoons. Walking trails include a 2km circular route that takes in aspects of the saltmarsh, saline lagoons and the vast mudflats.
Cley Marshes is Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s oldest and best known nature reserve. Covering 430 acres of shingle beach, saline lagoons, grazing marsh and reedbeds, it has an international reputation as one of the finest birdwatching sites in Britain.
The reserve supports large numbers of wintering and migrating wildfowl and waders, as well as bittern, marsh harrier and bearded tits. In spring and summer you can find avocets and spoonbills, while in autumn and winter there are wigeon, pintails, and Brent geese.
The eco-friendly visitor centre contains a café, shop & viewing areas and the new Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre adds a courtyard and viewing deck. The view from the visitor centre across the Marsh to the sea is breathtaking.
Cley Marshes NWT Visitor Centre
Cley next the Sea, Holt NR25 7SA
Blakeney National Nature Reserve is managed by the National Trust. It covers 1200 acres of saltmarshes, muddy creeks, tidal mudflats and reclaimed farmland.
Recognised as the most important site in Britain for both Sandwich and little terns, it is also home to Arctic terns, ringed plovers, oystercatchers and common redshanks. The pastures and reedbeds contain northern lapwings, sedge and reed warblers and bearded tits.
There are National Trust information centres at Morston Quay and the Lifeboat House on Blakeney Point, which can be reached by foot via Cley Beach.
Pensthorpe Natural Park is an award-winning 700 acre nature reserve located within the Wensum Valley, 11 miles inland from the coast. Habitats include ancient woodland, wetlands, farmland and grassland.
Former home of BBC Springwatch, Pensthorpe is home to Europe’s finest collection of endangered and exotic waterbirds. In all, over 500 different species have been sighted.
There are interactive trails, seven bird hides and a number of boardwalks through the reserve. There’s something for the entire family, with an educational centre, café, shop, four gardens and both indoor and outdoor children’s adventure play areas.
Holme Dunes is a 470-acre National Nature Reserve managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Habitats include sand dunes, salt marsh, pasture and freshwater grazing marsh.
Wheatears and warblers are common, and barn owls can be observed hunting over the grazing marshes in the late afternoon. You can see scarce migrants such as wryneck, yellow-browed and barred warblers, along with a small number of breeding avocets.
There is a small shop selling gifts and a café in the visitor centre.
Holme Dunes NWT Visitor Centre
Broadwater Rd, Hunstanton PE36 6LQ