Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Ovington Ramblers: Foxley Wood

Maureen Simmons

It was another beautiful sunny day when we visited Foxley Wood, which is well signposted off the A1067 Fakenham to Norwich Road. This is Norfolk's largest remaining ancient woodland and was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. 

These ancient woods have been unchanged for hundreds and hundreds of years and provide the perfect natural habitat for so many diverse species.  In fact there are over 350 plant species recorded in Foxley Wood, many of which were in bloom when we paid our visit. The most spectacular, of course, are the bluebells making a deep blue carpet through the trees, interspersed with white wood anemones and pale lemon primroses – an absolute dream! We were lucky to see lots of other wild flowers including water avens, wood sorrell, red campion and sweet violets, to name just a few.  Wild strawberries were beginning to stir and some were even in flower. We had never seen so many huge bumble bees at one time, visiting the early spring flowers and catkins.

We heard so many different bird calls throughout the woods and it would have been lovely to have an expert with us, but we did recognise the robins, wrens, chiff chaffs, chaffinches and woodpeckers.

Some of the pathways are extremely boggy at this time of year and because of this we did make a big diversion to drier ground.  However, this led us to some remarkably large early purple orchids we would otherwise have missed. How lucky was that! The photograph shows one of them just about to come into flower and looking rather like a fat asparagus shoot.

This is a wonderful place to visit, but remember to take your wellies if you are going soon.  Next week – weather permitting – we are taking a boat trip on Ranworth Broad.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Weeting wakes up for spring

By Sophie Harrison and Abi Nell

Welcome back to a new season at Weeting Heath! Our stone curlews made the perilous journey from North West Africa back to Weeting on 17 March. We currently have three active breeding pairs that are spending most of the time displaying, flapping their wings and marking their territories. Pair 2, Cynthia and Hue that were the stars of the Wings Over the Brecks last season, have safely returned to hopefully breed again this year. 

As part of the Breaking New Ground project, we now have a new camera with a high quality zoom lens, which will enable us to get up close and personal to our famous heath chickens! The camera will be powered by a solar panel that is mounted on wheels looking like something off robot wars! To minimise stress for our birds we had our solar panel warrior wheeled out onto the heath prior to the birds’ arrival. When the birds start to nest, we will be able to run a camera from the power source to be within 10m of the nest. So watch this space for more Stonie updates! 

To get Weeting up and running ready for the new season, our Breckland Reserves Manager Matt Blissett, our Breckland Reserves field officer Paul Waterhouse, and our visitor centre coordinator Abi Nell were assisted by our surperb team of volunteers to give the visitor centre a much needed lick of paint. Abi and I have have been busy updating signs and waymarkers through the forest. Visitors should now be able to navigate their way around the forest trail with ease.

The dense forest is great for green woodpeckers and Roe Deer. The more open areas that look out over the heath are good for spotting stonechat, wheatear, woodlark and if you are very lucky, goshawk. As the season progresses, more species will be visible in these areas such as hobby, tree pipit, grasshopper warbler and hopefully turtle doves.
Bird sighting highlights in addition to our stonies on the heath so far have been lapwing, wheatear, buzzard, kestrel, skylark, common curlew and mistle thrush. The pines have been buzzing with activity from yellowhammer and nuthatch to lesser redpoll and brambling. In the forest, crossbills, goshawk and peregrines have been seen flying over, whilst stone chat hide in the gorse and woodlarks pose on fence posts.

March has had a mixture of weather conditions, but we have seen several species of butterfly on the wing on the finer, drier days. This has included peacock; comma; speckled wood; small tortoiseshell; brimstone and red admirals!  As the season progresses (and if the weather picks up), we will be monitoring the butterfly species in weekly transects across the reserve.

Pine Beauty
For the first time this season the weather conditions have been good enough to get our moth trap up and running! Species caught include Pine Beauty; Common Quaker; Dotted Chestnut; Clouded Drab; Hebrew Character;  and Twin Spotted Quaker.

You will find all staff and volunteers at NWT Weeting Heath friendly and flexible. We are always looking to recruit new volunteers to join our friendly group. Our volunteers range in age, ability and interests. We have some that help us run the visitors centre, others that are happy to get involved with hard work on the reserve and some volunteers help us with their specialist knowledge of natural history to contribute to our regular wildlife monitoring. If you have a special interest, a love of working outdoors and as part of a team or even if you are just looking for some company, we would love to meet you. Pop in and see us at any time or email us at

·    If you have been to visit and taken some pictures that you are particularly proud of and would like to share them with the team then please send then to

·   The Brecks Local group is now up and running again for local wildlife enthusiasts. A full list of activities will be available soon but in the mean time you can contact John Davies at to find out more. 

On Monday 2 May we are holding the ‘Wild at Weeting’ Fun Day. The event is open to families, members and non-members alike. There will be kids activities, special membership offers, a guided walk, a second-hand book stall, a cake stall, a plant stall, a moth demonstration and interesting facts about Breckland wildlife. Read more here

Monday, 11 April 2016

The Ovington Ramblers: Hoe Rough

Maureen Simmons

Hoe Rough is found a few miles north of Dereham on the B1146 close to Gressenhall museum. It  provides a pleasant circular walk passing by the meandering river Whitewater across heathland and wet fenland.  It was a typical April day when we paid our visit but we managed to avoid the showers, although we did need our wellies as part is very wet.

Nowadays we take much longer on our walks as we take the time to “stop and stare”.  It is amazing to see so many tiny different plants growing in profusion that we once would have walked across without noticing.  Sometimes we look up the rare plants of interest on the walk and take pictures downloaded from the internet so we know what to look out for.  It is a way of learning as we go.  Today we were armed with pictures of yellow rattle, bogbean and cuckoo flower.  Unfortunately, as it is still early in the year, we only managed to find the cuckoo flower, a delicate soft lilac little flower growing in the wet ground.

Also thriving here along the river are huge poplar trees. These trees are dioecious, meaning they produce male and female flowers, or catkins, on different plants and there were many chunky red male catkins which had fallen from the trees. (The female catkins are greenish-yellow).

The Ovington Ramblers are a small group of friends who have decided in their 20th year of walking together that we will try to visit all the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserves in their 90th Anniversary year.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Ranworth at Easter

Barry Madden, NWT Volunteer

Easter has struck early and with it a new season has started at NWT Ranworth Broad. The welcome onslaught of visitors has been at times akin to a tornado touching earth; the visitor centre awhirl with holidaying families, keen birders and local people who, having spent a long winter imprisoned by winter's chill, have at last been released to savour the singular sense of light and space this slice of Broadland can offer.

Spring is bursting all around. The wet woodland surrounding the boardwalk from Ranworth village is resounding to the thrill of vibrant birdsong; wrens, robins, woodpeckers and chiffchaffs boldly staking out territories whilst hidden Cetti's warblers explode their loud clatter of notes from deep cover. Songthrushes pouring forth their sweet, varied repertoire from the mature trees on the higher borders of the reserve whilst marsh harriers and buzzards float lazily over the more stunted trees and reed beds of this special water world. An otter entertained some lucky visitors early on, briefly poking its broad, flat head above the surface of the broad before submerging with a flick of its thickly furred tail; thereafter a trail of bubbles and the harsh squawking of enraged black-headed gulls provided the only clue to its whereabouts. The sighting over in an instant but for a few the memory will linger.

At the eastern end of the trail, the wardens of the Bure Valley Living Landscape have completed their annual reed cutting. The reeds on either side of the boardwalk are cut and burned in alternate years to allow light and space for the multitude of special plants that flower here during the summer. This intensive management work is vital to ensure the reed bed remains in good health and is a small scale example of the work that is undertaken all over the Broads and along the North Norfolk Coast. By June the new reed growth will be chest high, buzzing with the vibrancy of insects and migrant warblers.

During these Easter holidays, the weather has, predictably, been unpredictable. A brilliant opening day gave way to showers and strong winds over the Easter weekend before a return to spring sunshine. But even during inclement spells beauty could be found with dramatic sunlit vistas of vivid spring foliage highlighted against an evil looking dark cloudscape. Rainbows as a backdrop to sun kissed bows of motor cruisers; surely the season in a nutshell. The latter, milder conditions with south-easterly winds brought delight in the form of three swallows that briefly flirted around the Visitor Centre on the last day of a changeable March. They were nowhere to be seen the following day, an April Fool's joke to all that thought they were 'our' swallows come back to reclaim their summer home. Patience! They will soon be here.

Of all the birds that epitomise Ranworth though, it is surely the great crested grebes that steal the show. At this time of year they are in peak condition, displaying to one another in full view of admiring onlookers. On a lunch break sitting quietly by the less watched portion of the broad, I was lucky enough to witness a courtship display by a pair that seem intent on setting up home in a sheltered bay. With no aquatic weeds available to them with which to perform their dramatic dances in this sadly polluted environment, the birds made do with a clump of debris plucked from a low growing bough. How wonderful to witness this intimate moment at such close quarters and be able to admire the birds in all their seasonal finery.

Although the grebes will soon build their flimsy floating platform and lay a clutch of real eggs, it was smaller more fat enriched fare that our younger human visitors craved. Chocolate Easter eggs: a prize for completing the regular Easter Eggsplorer quiz entailing an educational journey around the reserve answering questions on the varied wildlife that can be encountered during the year. This is always a popular activity and helps entertain the children whilst allowing mum and dad to take a breather. I didn't do the quiz, and to my shame didn't know the answer to some of the questions, but those eggs were delicious.


It is good to be here again and to feel part of something important. Spreading the message of conservation to the general public whose support for the work of NWT is crucial. The smiles on the faces of the visitors told of an enjoyable experience and that gives satisfaction enough for the first few days of what will, I’m sure, be a season full of wonderful wildlife and people. 

Read Barry's blog at