With age comes experience and in the case of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT), 90 years of experience is helping the UK's oldest wildlife trust to run its nature reserves so successfully. We are delighted to work alongside the NTW on many of its projects. Among these is to erect and maintain the fencing around the marshlands at Holme Dunes. This is very rewarding work for two reasons. Firstly, it is always nice to feel that you are contributing to the upkeep of our areas of natural wildlife habitat; and secondly, it was a task that presented its own set of challenges – mainly due to the wet ground we were working on.
More details about the actual job will appear in a later post. This article just gives a little background to the nature reserve and introduces some of the residents you might meet if you take a trip to Holme Dunes and Nature Reserve.
If you follow the boardwalk from Holme towards Thornham, you will have the beautiful, wild sea-shore to your left and the marshlands to your right. These marshlands are home to a whole manner of wildlife – hares, foxes, toads, frogs, barn owls, marsh harriers and a host of other animals and birds. Located as it is , where the Wash meets the North Sea, this whole area of the coast is superbly located to attract migrating birds.
Holme Nature Reserve also holds a variety of important habitats which support numerous other wildlife species including natterjack toads, butterflies and dragonflies, as well as a large number of interesting plants.
Various military remains from WWII can be glimpsed around the reserve, including the remains of a target-railway used to train artillery. Much earlier remains have also been discovered including Roman pottery and, in 1998, a well-preserved Bronze Age timber circle, which became known as ‘Seahenge’. The circle was uncovered by strong tides, having been hidden for some 4,000 years (no longer at Holme, the structure was removed for preservation purposes by archaeologists).
Probably planted to help stabilise the dunes, this spiky silvery shrub is prevalent here. In autumn, its bright orange berries are a godsend to the thousands of migrating birds, such as wintering thrushes, that stop off at Holme.
There are few sights in Norfolk more evocative than the ghostly form of a barn owl carefully quartering the fields and dykes. NWT Holme Dunes is one of the best places to catch up with the ethereal birds as they hunt silently over the grazing marshes in the late afternoon. Calm days are the best time to observe them.
This unmistakeable black-and-white wader, with its characteristic upturned bill, breeds in small numbers on the reserve, and can often be watched feeding in front of the hides during the summer.
Migrating and vagrant birds
The perfect location of NWT Holme Dunes means it attracts large numbers of migrating birds. In spring, wheatears and warblers are common, with large numbers of finches and thrushes in the autumn. Scarce migrants such as wryneck, yellow-browed warbler and barred warbler arealmost annual. When the conditions are just right, thousands of tired migrants take shelter among the scrub and dunes in what is known as a ‘fall’.
Holme is a good place to seawatch: with the correct winds gannets, skuas, terns and divers can be watched passing by the coastline in their hundreds.
Besides the birds and other creatures you will find living at Holme, you will also see some animals of a larger kind. To keep the vegetation under control, the NWT has released wild Dartmoor and Konik ponies and White Park cattle onto the Dunes.
These living lawnmowers play a very important role in managing the nature reserve by removing yearly vegetation growth and maintaining open habitats for wildlife. By maintaining an open sward, a whole range of plants are able to thrive.
Working alongside the NWT, it is fascinating to see nature in action, and all the complex was the animals, birds, plants and humans live alongside each other to create such a successful micro-environment.