With the beach and the Broads on our doorstep, you’re spoilt for choice when you visit Mill Farm. Here’s our tips on making the most of Norfolk’s wildlife during your stay.
Since moving here I have had some remarkable nature-watching experiences – often accidental – such as the barn owl that flew silently across my path in the garden late one evening last week, or the determined swimming grass snake that criss-crossed in front of our boat on the Broads last summer.
I am not a wildlife expert or even a regular watcher, but I think we are all better off if we have some connection with nature and our children will be calmer, happier and enriched if they learn to be curious and interested in the nature around them.
We are fortunate to have open fields to the west, allowing for spectacular farmland views and incredible sunsets. We have a chorus of skylarks and cuckoos in the spring and summer, while swallows return from Africa to nest in our sheds and stables. The gaggle of pink-footed geese, all the way from Siberia, heralds the arrival of autumn as they fly over at dawn and dusk and often land in surrounding fields to feed.
This can all be experienced by a short walk along the footpath that runs direct from Mill Farm through gently undulating open countryside. We regularly see kestrels hovering above our orchard, where we leave the grass to grow long to provide habitat for the mice and voles that keep these beautiful birds fed.
If you want to experience some wildlife or simply get out into the great outdoors while visiting, here are my top tips:
The Winterton-Horsey Dunes Nature Reserve is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and easily accessed by foot. It is a mixture of heathland, woodland and sand dunes and is home to nightjars, short-eared owls, adders and a little tern colony. But the obvious starting point is the amazing seal colony at Horsey – just a short drive or a decent walk from Mill Farm (see earlier seal blog). This year over 1500 baby seals were born on the beach between November and January.
Ross’s Wildlife Tours has boat trips daily (apart from Saturdays) from Easter until the end of September from Horsey Mere on the Broads National Park. Our visitors have raved about this trip and regularly see iconic Broads species such as the swallowtail butterfly, Norfolk hawker dragonfly and marsh harriers, with the help of the enthusiastic nature expert captain Ross.
If you want a more structured visit to a nature reserve both Strumpshaw Fen and Hickling Broad have specific activities for children at weekends and during holidays, which help to keep the kids engaged! At Hickling you can do guided wildlife water trails, including dawn chorus walks (which include breakfast, thank goodness!) and evening walks . Watching marsh harriers and cranes coming in to roost at Stubb Mill at dusk takes some beating. Strumpshaw also runs ‘behind the scenes’ tours with their rent a warden scheme.
A visit to the Broads National Park is best done by boat but try and hire an electric one (it is quieter and you don’t have the horrid smell of diesel). Day boats are available from Martham and Potter Heigham. If you have children and are lucky enough to be visiting when the marvelous How Hill Trust is putting on one of its family events then this is a must. These chilled out ‘fun days’ are set in the beautiful gardens and woodland and are charming days out. Booking is essential. You can also visit Toad Hole Cottage – a restored marsh man’s home and take a short guided ‘Electric eel’ boat trip.