The largest of the Broads, NWT Hickling Broad is a year-round haven for wildlife. It is easy to spend a day walking around its trails or, in summer, gently whiling away a couple of hours taking in the Broad’s hidden corners on one of NWT’s electric boat tours.
Hickling is situated on the Upper Thurne river system, which holds a significant percentage of the UK population of common crane as well as important breeding numbers of bittern, marsh harrier bearded tit and Cetti’s warbler. In winter large numbers of marsh harriers roost in the reedbed north east of Stubb Mill; merlin and hen harrier are also regular. Barn owl is almost guaranteed and you may see kingfisher if you are lucky. Interesting mammals include the introduced Chinese water deer, red deer and hard-to-see otters.
Among the many insects are two iconic local specialities – the swallowtail butterfly and the Norfolk hawker dragonfly – though many equally rare, albeit lesser-known, invertebrates also occur. Plants are well-represented, with the important milk parsley: the larval food plant of the swallowtail.
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has swing mooring vacancies on Hickling Broad. If you would like more information please contact Debs Kershaw on 01603 625540.
Hickling has a fantastic historic pedigree in relation to this species: in 1911 the naturalist Emma Turner found a nesting pair of bitterns in extensive reedbeds – the first confirmation that the species had bred in the UK since 1886. A famous iconic photo of the downy chick was taken to mark the event. A century on, NWT Hickling Broad is one of the best sites in Norfolk to hear (or perhaps glimpse) this strange, cryptic bird. Listen out for their booming calls from early March until June. Dawn and dusk are the best times to listen. You might just catch a glimpse of one in flight at any time of day or year, or if you are incredibly lucky, standing out in view at the edge of the reeds.
As well as nesting, the marsh harrier now over-winters in the county in sizeable numbers, with the largest gatherings found roosting on the edge of NWT Hickling Broad, viewable from a special raised viewing bank at Stubb Mill. Over 100 were recorded in one sighting in December 2006.
Between late May and early July adult swallowtail butterflies emerge to provide one of Norfolk’s iconic wildlife spectacles. Their yellow and black wings have a span of around 9cm, making them easily the largest native British butterfly. In good years a second brood occurs in late August to mid-September.
When three common cranes appeared on the northeast Norfolk coast in 1979, few would have believed that, just two years later, the species would go on to nest for the first time in centuries. Undoubtedly the best place to see them is the Stubb Mill viewing platform; a number of cranes usually fly into the reeds here around dusk each evening to roost during the winter months. Standing 1.2m (4ft) tall, these impressive birds give a haunting, bugle-like call as they drop from the near-darkness – one of the great wildlife spectacles of Norfolk.