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!