Monday, 1 August 2016


This bizarre species of bird is famous for its elusive behaviour, strange look and characteristic call.

Bitterns are part of the Heron family but are smaller in stature and thick set with buff-brown plumage and dark streaks which allow them to blend in perfectly with the reeds through which they hunt. They are notoriously secretive and difficult to see but the breeding call can be heard from miles around. The Bitterns ‘boom’, as it is called,  is produced by the males and sounds like someone is blowing very loudly over a glass bottle! Each sound is unique and can be used to identify individual males.

Reedbed areas, which Bitterns rely on for feeding and nesting, were drained for agriculture. This, combined with persecution, led to their eventual extinction in 1885. Reedbed restoration has allowed the birds to slowly recover in number throughout Britain. Here at Holkham the re-wetting and re-profiling of land has created small areas of dense reedbed and clearing dykes has improved feeding opportunities.

A bittern disguises itself in the reeds

Bitterns are highly adapted to live in reeds. Their large feet are used to grasp reed stems allowing them to peer over the reed tops. They construct a nest platform in the thickest part of the reedbed close to the water level and the female will add material to the nest as the water level increases. Bitterns have a varied diet composing mainly of fish, amphibians and insects.

We are lucky enough to have a number of breeding pairs on the Holkham National Nature Reserve. The best place to see them is from the Overy sea wall or Washington hide. Due to their rare nature it is illegal to disturb Bitterns, even by accident. That is why we ask dog owners to keep their dogs under close control, or preferably on a lead.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Bears and Beetles

The striking Yellow-striped Bear Spider, a rare saltmarsh inhabitant of the reserve.

The fact that Holkham has been a national nature reserve since 1967 has meant that a great deal of its flora and fauna has been well studied. With its diversity of habitats it also means that there is a great deal of it too! Most visitors who come to Holkham will see the familiar and the obvious; birds, deer, hares etc yet there is much more to be seen by the specialist/enthusiastic naturalist. Holkham seems to have this uncanny knack of having certain species that are rare elsewhere yet here are often in abundance. With that in mind a very keen group of mainly entomologists (insect specialists - yet they were keen on all aspects of natural history) called the Pan Species Listers from various parts of the UK descended on the reserve over the weekend of June 18th/19th. Their aim was to find and identify as many species as they could from the Friday evening to the Sunday afternoon. It was great for them to explore such rich coastal habitats and it was good for us to acquire a wealth of information on some often neglected wildlife found on the reserve. Although the weather was far from great (a north westerly wind and rain on the Saturday!) it seems a good time was had by all. Moth traps were set, sweep nets were swept and leaf litter was sifted through to find a fantastic array of insects and other invertebrates. With some of the group coming from as far away as Dorset, Devon, Somerset and the Isle of Wight, a few of the reserve’s specialities were keen to be seen. Luckily for them the increasingly scarce plant Yellow Bird’s nest was just out and in perfect condition. Natterjack Toads seemed to be everywhere the group looked within the dunes, under logs way out of their normal range and even in small burrows close to the beach edge.

One of the group’s main quarries was a small metallic green ‘malachite’ beetle Clanoptilus barnevillei, a bone fide rarity found only along the North Norfolk coast, with Holkham said to be its stronghold. It was not long before it was found and in plentiful numbers on the ragwort flowers amidst the dunes. Other exciting finds were a Bristly Millipede on the barn wall at Hill Farm, a very large russet coloured long horned beetle called the Dusky Longhorn and a large salt marsh loving spider called the Yellow-striped Bear Spider that is only known from a few other sites around the English coast. As is always the case the identification process for many of the more subtle beetles and bugs can be rather time consuming involving cross referencing literature with microscopically examined specimens so at present we are still awaiting the results and findings from the weekend. Holkham NNR has actually had 818 species of beetle recorded here, a life’s work no less for one local enthusiast, so with that in mind there might be plenty of work involved from one weekend’s findings alone !

Andrew Bloomfield, Reserve Warden

Monday, 16 May 2016

Seals at Holkham

There are just two resident seal species in the UK, the common and the grey. The common seal (also known as harbour seals due to their preference to stay near land) is actually less common than its bigger cousin the grey seal.

Common seals are smaller with snub-noses and there is very little difference between males and females, although males may be slightly larger. By contrast, the male grey seal is considerably larger than the female. Greys have a distinctive long ‘Roman noses’. In fact, its scientific name (Halichoerus grypus) means ‘hook-nosed sea-pig’!

Seals return to land to give birth to their pups. Between September and November, grey seals will haul themselves out of the sea to have their white-coated pups. They will then spend around three to four weeks ashore.
Common seals come ashore to give birth from May through to July. Their pups are more readily adapted to a marine life. They are born with well developed hind flippers, meaning that they have the ability to swim within just a few hours of birth. The mother and pup then spend most of their time together in the sea.

The seals will often haul themselves out at low tides to rest and wait for the tide to come back in. They can often be seen relaxing in front of the beach huts at Wells. While these fun animals look cute and friendly they are wild and can give a very nasty bite if threatened. Seals are a protected species and disturbance is an offence. We would ask people to keep a respectful distance, to keep their dogs on a lead and not to enter the seal enclosures.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Cold War Conservation

The North Norfolk coast is famous for its abundance of wildlife. This is because of the chain of almost uninterrupted nature reserves from Dersingham Bog to Felbrigg Estate. These reserves are run by a range of organisations including the RSPB, National Trust, Natural England and of course Holkham Estate.

Holkham NNR borders Stiffkey and last week we joined forces with the National Trust's warden team to conserve the Whirligig. This curious looking structure lies at the far east of the reserve and is the remains of a Cold War rotary launcher which propelled drones over Warham Marsh for target practice.

A spectacular view over Warham Marsh.

It was a beautifully sunny day when we were joined by George, Faith and Helena. The Whirligig was renowned for its abundance of orchids and it was our task to restore the site by removing rank grassland and encroaching brambles. With a combination of brushcutters, chainsaws, teamwork and a roaring fire we cleared over half the area.

Team photo!

We would like to thank the Blakeney Point warden team for their help and for making the day so enjoyable. Fingers crossed that next summer this area will once again be filled with orchids.

 The sun setting over the Whirligig.

Monday, 4 January 2016

2015 was quite a year!

Around this time last year I was interviewed for the Holkham warden position. Little did I know a year later I would be writing my highlights for the year at Holkham. 2015 has flashed past in a blur of summer sun, torrential rain and amazing experiences.
With the start of a 2016 I have decided to reflect on some of my personal highlights
Myself, Andy and Wouter, who was on 
work experience with us last year.

New Species. During my first year at Holkham I have seen some unusual species. Best of all was undoubtedly the Citril finch in May, although the two showy Bluetails later in the year were close second. Pallid Harrier, White-tailed Eagle and our Otter were also highlights; while other exciting creatures included Scarce Emerald Damselfly, a Merveille di Jour Moth and a recently a Red-rumped Swallow. Of course, I enjoy spotting our more familiar species too. Personal favourites include Starlings, Short-tailed Field Vole, Bitterns, Bee orchid and Spoonbills. I can only hope that next year will bring even more interesting creatures to Holkham National Nature Reserve.

Andy's fantastic photo of the Citril Finch.

The beautiful and well camouflaged 
Merveille di Jour Moth

A very cute Short-tailed Field Vole 
we found in a wood pile.

Lots of chicks. Our management and new survey methods have shown success with lots of nesting Lapwings, Avocets, Marsh Harriers and Lapwings. It has been a good year for Natterjacks. The toads had not one but two spawning’s in 2015. With habitat work continuing into the New Year and exciting new projects around the corner our warders are working hard to make Holkham NNR even better for wildlife.

Lapwing chick playing dead.

Volunteers. We would like to say a big thank you to our wonderful volunteers, who have given up there valuable time to help the warden staff. They have played a vital part in keeping the reserve running and have helped keep Holkham NNR in tip top condition for our wildlife.

A few of our hard working volunteers!

Our visitors. Meeting and talking to people who visit the reserve is a highlight of my job, whether they are horse riders on the beach, birdwatchers in the dunes, or walkers just passing through. It is great to chat with all sorts of people and introduce them to our amazing wildlife. Everyone comes to Holkham for different reason but everyone enjoys the peace and quiet and the stunning beauty of Holkham NNR.

The beach has become my favourite 
part of the reserve.

Returning after a long winter break I am looking forward to seeing what the New Year will bring and what exciting new wildlife experiences lie around the corner.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Forestry on the Holkham NNR

Over the last few weeks the Holkham NNR wardens have been working closely with the Forestry Department to remove dead trees in the pine woods at Holkham Gap.
Two years ago a storm surge through Norfolk causing significant damage to coastal areas, Holkham NNR was no different. The strong wind low pressure and high tides flooded the reserve. Pine trees are a hardy species but once the sea water worked its way into their roots they began to die. Approximately 400 dead trees and will be cut down before Christmas.

The team all ready to go! 

400 trees sounds like an alarming number but this is a very small percentage of the woodland. Where possible trees will be left as dead wood which is an important habitat for many insects and birds but most will be felled as they are next to busy footpaths around Holkham Gap.

The tree trunks were cut into lengths and loaded onto 
a trailer to be taken to the bio mass boiler.

The timber from the felled trees is not going to waste! It is being taken to the biomass boiler to produce heat for the Hall and Victoria Hotel. Even the branches are chipped and used by the garden department on the estate.  The remaining unused material is burnt with the help from your wonderful volunteers!

Inspecting the wood chip which was used throughout 
the estate.

So next time you walk through the woodland look out for what new species pop up in these new open areas!

Monday, 23 November 2015

A Peaceful Corner of Pinewoods Holiday Park

Abrahams Bosom is nestled amongst the bustling Pinewood Holiday Park. This often over looked part of Holkham and is a peaceful haven for both wildlife and the caravan residents.  Last week the warden staff and volunteers were working hard to remove the rank grassland taking over the meadow and thinning dense birch thickets. This was to encourage more wild flowers, insects and birds to use the area.  Due to the inaccessible nature of the site this was mostly done by hand and the hard work of our volunteers.  Our final task was to establish a path for the tractor in to the grass meadow. Allowing the tractor to cut the meadow next year will save a lot of time and hard work!

Volunteers burning the cut grass.

This SSSI site is popular with many small mammals such a Common Shrews, Harvest Mice and Hedgehogs. Predators such as Tawny Owls and Peregrine Falcons are seen hunting in the evenings. Larger animals like Muntjac Deer can often be heard barking and if you are very lucky you might even get a rare glimpse of the Wells Otters.

A Common Shrew takes shelter in a pot as we
 were brush cutting

This site has lots of varied and unique habitat (including the reserve’s only Heather plants!) and we are looking forward to seeing the site develop into the future.

You would never know you were surrounded by a 
Holiday Park!