Discovering: Wheatfen Nature Reserve

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Tom Waterfall

I have been working for the Broads Authority for nearly four years now within the communications team currently in the role of Senior Communications Officer. I am really into hiking and nature, so the best bit of the job is definitely getting to go on visits and see the places and wildlife in-person that I am writing about in my work. On a more daily basis I really enjoy the satisfaction of helping the public with their questions and sharing with the world the great stuff that my colleagues in our Ranger, Environment and Visitor Services teams get up to. I love all of the National Parks I’ve been to but my favourite park is probably the Peak District, I grew up not far from there in Nottinghamshire.

Nestled in the heart of the Yare Valley, on the edge of a small Broadland village, sits one of Norfolk’s hidden gems and one of Britain’s finest nature reserves – Wheatfen.

It is unique because it is an independent reserve, privately managed by the Ted Ellis Trust but open to the public to enjoy for free (although donations are appreciated). You don’t have the large crowds, gift shops or cafes that you find at other reserves, but when the scenery is so breath-taking you will soon forget about cakes and cappuccinos.

A particular trip from May 2020 sticks out to me as a highlight. It was a spring day after the first lockdown and I wanted to make the most of the unseasonable weather by taking a short drive out of the city with a flask of tea, some biscuits and my binoculars to get some fresh air (I am in my mid-20s I promise!).

After heading down the bumpy track to the reserve, the car park looked rather full. However, Wheatfen is one of those magical places where, although you expect to find crowds, it is large enough (at just over 52 hectares) and has just enough criss-crossing footpaths to go exploring for the entire afternoon and only bump into a few people.

I walked down a path from the car park, past the Will the Warden’s hut and the cottage which once belonged to esteemed naturalist and founder of Wheatfen, Ted Ellis, before reaching the start of the reserve.

I was greeted with a stunning vista across the marshes and dykes which, somehow, manages to take your breath away in even the bleakest weather conditions. It was sunny and Brimstone, Large White and Peacock butterflies were already gathering in abundance as they basked in the warm sunshine.

I followed my favourite route, hugging the left-hand edge of the reserve past a thatched hide whilst admiring the many Flag Irises that were displaying their yellow flowers. The route then takes you through a lightly wooded area before bringing you out onto a network of paths which intersect the vast open marshes.

I stopped to speak to a visitor who was photographing the dragonflies, and in an instant, we were joined overhead by a Hobby, one of Britain’s smallest birds of prey, expertly hunting them in mid-flight. A shame to see such incredible and prehistoric insects becoming someone’s lunch, but a fine display of the food-chain in action nonetheless.

My attention then turned to a male Cuckoo perched on a tree in the distance, and for the first time ever I actually managed to catch a glimpse one of these spectacular (and unfortunately now fairly rare) birds instead of hearing their distinctive calls from afar.

Only a few minutes later, a group of three Common Cranes (another species which is far from common in reality) soared in circles above us, their trumpeting call booming loudly even though they were clearly very high overhead. Another new species for me in the wild, although they soon disappeared over the horizon to roost the other side of the river.

Only moments after sitting down to enjoy my tea, a Swallowtail, Britain’s largest and arguably rarest butterfly, came dancing over the reeds to briefly feed on a Buddleia flower. I have seen them before, and probably only spent about 30 seconds watching this particular one before it was caught in the breeze and taken out of view. However, seeing one of these dazzling tropical butterflies is always an absolute treat.

It was the perfect end to one of the best days I’ve ever had out in the Broads. Some of the country’s rarest species ticked off and a number of firsts for me. I left with a big grin on my face and feeling just a little guilty at how jealous I’d made my Dad when I phoned to tell him about my day.

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Photography copyright Ann Kerridge
Photography copyright Ann Kerridge


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