NWT New Buckenham Common in the Claylands Living Landscape. Photo by Barry Madden 1/3
NWT Hethel Old Thorn in the Claylands Living Landscape. Photo by Richard Osbourne 2/3
NWT Lower Wood, Ashwellthorpe in the Claylands Living Landscape. Photo by Richard Osbourne 3/3


This web page will help you to learn about one of Norfolk’s little-known important areas for nature – the South Norfolk Claylands Living Landscape – so you can get out and explore its rivers, woods, farmlands and commons, and experience the abundance of gentle rolling scenery, history, and wildlife it has to offer.
The Claylands Living Landscape covers the entire area of the South Norfolk district. The landscape is dominated by arable farming, interspersed with a number of ancient woodlands, isolated pockets of grassland, hedgerows, ponds, greens, commons and river valleys. Historically, many of these areas were connected, but encroaching development for housing and a move towards larger-scale farming has left many wildlife habitats isolated.

Alongside these important areas for wildlife are many important historical sites – for instance the area is rich in important architecture, such as the medieval Wymondham Abbey that towers over the Tiffey Valley, or the ancient Roman site at Caistor St Edmund. Both of these sites also happen to sit in wildlife-rich surroundings, as do many of the small, ancient churches that are dotted around South Norfolk.

The Claylands contain some of the most important ancient woodlands in the county. Many of these are Sites of Special Scientific Interest. The Trust’s Lower Wood, Ashwellthorpe nature reserve, with its fine displays of spring bluebells, is an excellent example that is very popular with local people.
Equally important for wildlife are the hedgerows, ponds, meadows and veteran trees that are so characteristic, and such an integral part, of the South Norfolk landscape. These have become some of the last refuges for our declining meadow wildflowers and butterflies. They also support a number of species of bats, as well as a healthy population of barn owls and important populations of great crested newt.
The Claylands Living Landscape project aims to enhance the management of the area’s wildlife habitats and expand its area of grassland and woodland – thereby creating a more joined-up ecological network – as well as to encourage the more sensitive management of farmland. To achieve this aim, NWT will be working closely with community groups and landowners in South Norfolk to raise wildlife awareness, as well as encouraging their active participation in conserving and enjoying the area’s historic natural environment.
With its location just to the south of Norwich, and containing many good-sized towns and numerous villages, the Claylands Living Landscape is easily accessible to a large population of people. Although there are only four NWT nature reserves within the area, there are numerous other important places for wildlife including County Wildlife Sites, various Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), and a number of publicly accessible areas of common land.

The Claylands’ flagship Norfolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve is Lower Wood, Ashwellthorpe. This 37-hectare area of ancient woodland is approximately 4 km (2.5 miles) southeast of Wymondham, accessed from Ashwellthorpe village itself. Lower Wood was first recorded in the Domesday Book. More recently, coppicing – a traditional form of woodland management that encourages growth by repeatedly cutting back young stems to near ground level – has been extensively carried out here. Alongside the bluebells and wild garlic that carpets the understorey in spring, many other interesting plants occur, as well as butterflies (including white admiral), deer, and many woodland birds.

In contrast to this large ancient woodland is NWT’s smallest nature reserve: Hethel Old Thorn. Located beside a picturesque church, the churchyard, of which is full of wildflowers and managed by NWT volunteers, the reserve consists of just one, very old 'tree', though perhaps bush would be a better description! This venerable hawthorn is thought to be one of the most ancient in England, possibly dating from the thirteenth century. In 1755, its girth was recorded as 9 feet 1 inch, but it is now a remnant of its former self. With its atmospheric setting and interesting history, the reserve is certainly an evocative place to visit, particularly on a late spring or early summer evening.

The Claylands also contain two of NWT’s newest nature reserves: Stanley Carrs near Beccles and Swangey Fen near Attleborough. Both reserves were kindly gifted to NWT in 2010 by the Otter Trust. Both contain important areas of fen, scrub and woodland, with many interesting plants, and occasional appearances by otters. Access at both sites is currently restricted while visitor infrastructure is improved.

There are many other local nature reserves that are readily accessible to visitors – for instance in Wymondham, Toll’s Meadow contains many bird species, interesting plants including orchids, and regular water vole sightings; the nearby Lizard is an large area of meadows and scrub replete with easy walks and excellent wildlife; and the Tiffey Trail extends along the river valley from close to Wymondham Abbey, passing through archetypal Claylands countryside. Around other towns and villages in the area are many other excellent wildlife areas – take a walk or a bike ride and explore them!
The wildlife of the Claylands is under threat. Many species found here that were once common are now in decline (such as summer-visiting turtle doves and cuckoos), and increasing development pressures are crowding in on its precious habitats. Despite this, there is much you can do to help ensure this underrated part of Norfolk and its wildlife has a thriving future.

If you live in South Norfolk then you can help by making your garden more wildlife-friendly by: feeding the birds in your garden, putting up nest boxes and bat boxes, creating a wildlife pond or a compost heap.

There are many other actions you can take such as encouraging local businesses or schools to support an area for wildlife, joining together with other people within the community to create wildlife-friendly areas, volunteering for NWT or other conservation projects, speaking to local councillors and MPs about the importance of local green spaces and wildlife, and buying from local farmers engaged in good environmental practices.

Or, just simply, get out into the South Norfolk countryside and learn about its wildlife and habitats. You could even undertake a simple wildlife survey (NWT occasionally runs surveys for certain species, and more regular ones are carried out by the BTO and RSPB) to help scientists and researchers learn more about wildlife numbers and distribution.

News stories: a living landscape

2017-03-15 'Microsculpture' 'Microsculpture'
Wednesday 15 March, 2017
'Microsculpture' is a unique exhibition resulting from a ground breaking insects project by Levon Biss, Briti...
2017-03-07 Celebrating 'The Year of Norfo Celebrating 'The Year of Norfolk’s Nature' - photography competition
Tuesday 07 March, 2017
Norfolk Wildlife Trust today [Wednesday 8 March 2017] announced the winner of its photographic competition celebratin...
2017-02-16 Do some 'fun raising' and Do some 'fun raising' and "Help Hickling" Broad
Thursday 16 February, 2017
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has an ambitious target of raising £1 million by 31 March 2017 to help it purchase 655 a...
2017-02-02 World Wetlands Day celebrates World Wetlands Day celebrates major public commitment to securing Norfolk’s finest wetland
Thursday 02 February, 2017
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has announced today on World Wetlands Day that over £500,000 has been donated so far to ...
2017-01-14 Sea Flooding at NWT Cley Marsh Sea Flooding at NWT Cley Marshes Nature Reserve
Saturday 14 January, 2017
Update: 18 January 2017 Following the flooding at the weekend, reserve staff are now carrying out a clean-up and ...
2016-12-06 A strong step towards securing A strong step towards securing Hickling Broad
Tuesday 06 December, 2016
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has announced that over £128,000 has been donated so far as a result of it launching the...
2016-11-21 It's time to chat about the ba It's time to chat about the bat
Monday 21 November, 2016
Join bat expert John Goldsmith for an evening this Thursday [24 November] discovering the secret lives of these noctu...
2016-11-02 Hickling Broad - urgent appeal Hickling Broad - urgent appeal to secure future of historic Norfolk wildlife haven
Wednesday 02 November, 2016
 Norfolk Wildlife Trust today announced it is launching a £1 million appeal to secure the future of one of...
2016-07-11  A wild morning in Reffley – t A wild morning in Reffley – this Saturday!
Monday 11 July, 2016
Join Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Reffley Community Association and the Gaywood Valley Conservation Group for a fun packed...
2016-05-13 Competition to name King’s Lyn Competition to name King’s Lynn Wildlife Area
Friday 13 May, 2016
Ideas are being sought from members of the public for a name to give to a publicly accessible wildlife area which is ...
2016-03-11 Taking action for county wildl Taking action for county wildlife
Friday 11 March, 2016
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has been awarded £81,600 from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HL...
2016-02-04 Towering tractors to help tiny Towering tractors to help tiny wildlife
Thursday 04 February, 2016
A huge transformation has begun using heavy machinery at two sites in the Brecks managed by Norfolk Wildlife Trust. T...
2015-12-04 Winter wildlife survey to help Winter wildlife survey to help protect species in Norfolk
Friday 04 December, 2015
Norfolk Wildlife Trust launches a new wildlife spotter survey to record sightings of mistletoe, stoat and tree sparro...
2015-10-14 Bure Valley Conservation Group Bure Valley Conservation Group is established
Wednesday 14 October, 2015
For the past two years, Norfolk Wildlife Trust has been working on a project to improve the Living Landscape in the B...
2015-10-01 The Gaywood Valley Conservatio The Gaywood Valley Conservation Group
Thursday 01 October, 2015
For the past two years, Norfolk Wildlife Trust has been working on a project to improve the Living Landscape in the G...
2015-09-23 Local park’s pond to be restor Local park’s pond to be restored
Wednesday 23 September, 2015
Norfolk Wildlife Trust, South Wootton Parish Council and South Wootton in Bloom will be in Wootton Park tomorrow [Thu...
2015-09-17 Unlocking the secret lives of Unlocking the secret lives of some of the most iconic birds in the Brecks
Thursday 17 September, 2015
This year some of the most elusive birds found in the Brecks have been caught on camera through a unique Breaking New...
2015-09-16 Seven Ponds in Seven Days Seven Ponds in Seven Days
Wednesday 16 September, 2015
Can a Norfolk conservation project restore seven ponds in seven days? A conservation project in Norfolk is highlight...
2015-09-10 Free wildlife community action Free wildlife community action day - Book now!
Thursday 10 September, 2015
Record wildlife on your site; turn a school playing field or recreation ground into a people and wildlife-friendly ar...
2015-06-25 A wild morning in Reffley A wild morning in Reffley
Thursday 25 June, 2015
Join us on Saturday 27 June Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Reffley Community Association and the Gaywood Valley Conservatio...
2015-06-12 Sir David Attenborough celebra Sir David Attenborough celebrates Living Coast project
Friday 12 June, 2015
On Friday 12 June Sir David Attenborough, President Emeritus of The Wildlife Trusts, and BBC Presenter and Ambassador...
2015-05-15 Volunteers start work on new m Volunteers start work on new managed wildlife area
Friday 15 May, 2015
A group of about 15 keen volunteers joined representatives of Norfolk Wildlife Trust on Monday morning to start plann...
2015-05-13 Secret lives of iconic birds i Secret lives of iconic birds in the Brecks caught on camera
Wednesday 13 May, 2015
Wings over the Brecks project celebrates launch of project with the very first live on site nest camera footage of go...
2015-05-02 Go Wild at Barton Broad Go Wild at Barton Broad
Saturday 02 May, 2015
Join us on Sunday 10 May! Bring all of the family along for a fun-packed day out at Norfolk Wildlife Trust&rsquo...

Habitats: Claylands

Broads and gravel pits Broads and gravel pits
Churchyards Churchyards
Woodland Woodland
Grassland Grassland
Farmland Farmland