5 wetland habitats in Norfolk where you can enjoy a walk

Hickling Broad will be the central focus of works by the Broads Authority to improve accessibility t

Norfolk has some of the best wetland areas in the country. Here are five different wetland habitats you can explore in the county - Credit: Mike Page

There are few places in the country that boast as many wetland habitats than in Norfolk.

From the Broads National Park in the east to the salt marshes on the north Norfolk coast, there are many different environments to explore.

These vital ecosystems support an abundance of wildlife, with 40pc of the world's animals and plants depending on them to survive.

Increasingly wetlands are also growing in importance as "carbon sinks", helping to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to counter the impact of burning fossil fuels.

The prehistoic Pingo trail near Watton

The prehistoic Pingo trail near Watton - Credit: Sonya Duncan

According to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) over the last 500 years the UK has lost 90pc of wetland areas and these habitats are now endangered globally.

The picture is improving in Norfolk thanks to organisations like Norfolk Wildlife Trust and the Norfolk Rivers Trust, which have been working towards protecting and creating wetland environments in the county. 

Here are five wetland habitats to visit in Norfolk.

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1. Cley and Salthouse Marshes

Sunrise at Cley Marshes. Picture: Danielle Booden

Sunrise at Cley Marshes. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Cley Marshes is the oldest Wildlife Trust nature reserve in the UK.

The 371 hectare site was first purchased in 1926 to act as a bird breeding sanctuary for birds such as avocets, bearded tits and marsh harriers, and it attracts up to 110,000 guests each year.

The reserve is made up of coastal shingle, saltmarsh, saline lagoons, freshwater grazing marsh and reedbeds.

There are circular walks and paths to travel on through the marshes and a number of hides and shelters to view the abundance of bird species that visit the marsh area. 

The WWT recently named Cley and Salthouse marshes as one of the best wetlands in the UK and the world

2. The Fens

The Fens, west Norfolk, Roydon Common, King's Lynn, Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Roydon Common in King's Lynn is a great place to visit to see Fenland habitats in west Norfolk - Credit: David North/Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Located in west Norfolk, the Fens is fed by the rivers and tributaries flowing from The Wash south of King's Lynn and goes into neighbouring Cambridge and Lincolnshire.

Fens are marsh habitats fed by alkaline water from the underlying chalk.

They can be found in many areas in Norfolk, including Broadland, the Brecks and along major river valleys such as the Wensum.

Many rare and endangered species can be found here, such as the swallowtail butterfly and the Norfolk hawker dragonfly.

The Fen Rivers Way offers a great route from which you can explore the habitat.

It stretches 50 miles from King's Lynn to Cambridge and traces the courses of rivers that flow into the Fens.

3. Pingos at Thompson Common

Thompson Common pingos wetland habitats Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Thompson Common, near Thetford, is a fascinating place to explore the ancient ice age pingo wetland habitats - Credit: Richard Osbourne/Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Pingos are ancient iron age ponds formed by melting glaciers.

Many have disappeared due to land being ploughed for farming, making the remaining ponds historically and ecologically important.

You can explore them through a circular walk that starts on an old Roman road called Peddars Way and goes through Thomson Common.

On the eight mile walk you will see a range of wildlife and travel past pingos and swamp areas.

4. Hickling Broad

Hickling Broad. Picture: Mike Page

Hickling Broad in the Broads National Park is one of the largest bodies of water to be found in the Broads river system - Credit: Archant

The Broads are man-made waterways that were formed by peat digging and the subsequent flooding of the area from the 14th century.

Hickling Broad, situated on the Upper Thurne river system near Horsey, is one of the largest  bodies of water in the national park and is home to a wide variety of wetland birds.

You can spend a day walking around Hickling spotting the likes of bitterns, marsh harriers and common crane.

If you are lucky, you may even see an otter slipping into the water to fish. 

5. Meres in the Brecks

Langham Mere Norfolk Wetlands Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Langham Mere, near the north Norfolk coast, is a shallow, broad lake formed in the Ice Age - Credit: Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Meres are lakes known for their shallow depths and are of Ice Age origin.

There are 12 semi-permanent meres in the Brecks, which lie in depressions in the top soil and are fed by the underlying chalk aquifer.

The water levels fluctuate in a unique manner, making these unique habitats home to specialised plants and animals that have adapted to the short-term availability of water.

Meres can be found at East Wretham Heath near Thetford and in other places such as Langham.