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

2021-10-29 Ground-breaking new Claylands Ground-breaking new Claylands wildlife project calls on South Norfolk communities
Friday 29 October, 2021
Norfolk Wildlife Trust is embarking on an ambitious new project to restore the "fabric of the countryside" ...
2021-06-15 More than £600k raised to expa More than £600k raised to expand Brecks nature reserve
Tuesday 15 June, 2021
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has reached its fundraising target to expand one of the Brecks’ most important nature re...
2018-08-13 Floating digger provides next Floating digger provides next stage of fen restoration
Monday 13 August, 2018
A 14-ton excavator has been ‘floating’ on a Norfolk fen this month to create a network of ponds, which wi...
2018-07-25 Songs, Scales and studies at C Songs, Scales and studies at Cley this summer
Wednesday 25 July, 2018
Don’t miss Cley Calling Summer Spirit next week - Thursday 2nd till Sunday 5th August – with unusual ways...
2018-06-27 Summer Spirit as Cley calls to Summer Spirit as Cley calls to art and nature lovers
Wednesday 27 June, 2018
Just five weeks until our long summer weekend of wildlife and creativity at Cley! Thursday 2nd till Sunday 5th August...
2018-05-22 Wildlife in Common Wildlife in Common
Tuesday 22 May, 2018
A two year project celebrating Norfolk’s commons and their wildlife and heritage has begun,  run by Norfol...
2017-12-08 Be ‘eagle’ eyed this winter Be ‘eagle’ eyed this winter
Friday 08 December, 2017
Winter is often a very good time of year to spot birds of prey. As the trees have lost their leaves the silhouettes o...
2017-12-05 Cley Calling celebrates Norfol Cley Calling celebrates Norfolk’s starry skies this weekend
Tuesday 05 December, 2017
Do you know your mallard from your gadwall? Do you fancy a spot of frosty storytelling with a glass of mulled wine? Y...
2017-10-02 New report links volunteering New report links volunteering in nature with better mental health
Monday 02 October, 2017
A new report which examines the effects of volunteering in nature on people’s mental health is published by The...
2017-09-20 Cley Calling – Autumn Colours Cley Calling – Autumn Colours
Wednesday 20 September, 2017
This autumn, you can explore North Norfolk’s colourful coastal landscape and culture as part of NWT’s ...
2017-09-19 Celebrating two decades of rub Celebrating two decades of rubbish help for biodiversity
Tuesday 19 September, 2017
It feels counterintuitive - the waste we produce helping to restore habitats and conserve some of Norfolk’s mos...
2017-09-11 Breeding redshank return to Ro Breeding redshank return to Roydon Common after 40 years
Monday 11 September, 2017
A new noise has joined the cacophony of bubbling curlew, drumming snipe and the ‘tooo-wips’ of lapwing th...
2017-06-27 Norfolk's magical meadows Norfolk's magical meadows
Tuesday 27 June, 2017
Norfolk Wildlife Trust is leading a free meadow tour of Mulbarton Common this Saturday 1 July 2017 as part of The Wil...
2017-06-07 From Dartmoor to Breckland From Dartmoor to Breckland
Wednesday 07 June, 2017
New ponies settle in to manage Cranwich Camp, Norfolk.  Sixteen Dartmoor Ponies are settling in to their new...
2017-05-03 Cley Calling - Spring Song Cley Calling - Spring Song
Wednesday 03 May, 2017
Musicians and artists celebrate spring at the North Norfolk Coast From Thursday 4 May to Sunday 7 May, Norfolk Wi...
2017-04-18 £1 million target reached to s £1 million target reached to secure future of international wetland Hickling Broad
Tuesday 18 April, 2017
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has announced today that the £1 million target had been reached through donations to the...
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...

Habitats: Claylands

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