NWT Hickling Broad, photo by Richard Osbourne 1/3
Hickling Living Landscape, photo by Mike Page 2/3
NWT Hickling Broad, photo by Richard Osbourne 3/3

Upper Thurne Living Landscape

This web page will help you to learn about one of Norfolk’s finest areas for nature – the Upper Thurne Living Landscape – so you can get out among its waterways and marshes and experience the abundance of spectacular scenery, history, and wildlife it has to offer.
The Upper Thurne Living Landscape is one of the UK’s most important wildlife areas. Located in the northeast corner of the Broads, this 5,000-hectare area is dominated by Hickling Broad (the largest of the Broads), which encompasses a range of wetland habitats including open water, reedbed and grazing marsh. Neighbouring Broads such as Horsey and Martham are also part of the scheme, as well as the coastal plain, which includes important areas of heathland and sand dunes.
Historically, much of the area has been drained for arable cultivation. Increased levels of nutrients from agricultural run-off, and raised levels of salinity have a significant impact on the Broads’ water quality and consequently on rare aquatic plants such as stoneworts. There is also considerable uncertainty over the long-term sustainability of the current sea defences, as the area is very low-lying and vulnerable to flooding.
Despite these challenges, the area of the Upper Thurne is extremely important for wildlife. Rare breeding birds include the UK’s main breeding populations of common crane, bittern and marsh harrier, as well as large winter gatherings of visiting pink-footed geese and other wildfowl. During the summer the UK’s largest butterfly is present, alongside many species of dragonflies. A large number of other rare invertebrates also occur, as well as a huge variety of plants.
At the heart of the Hickling Living Landscape is NWT Hickling Broad. This important reserve contains 600 hectares of open water, reedbed, fen, grazing marsh and woodland, and has excellent visitor facilities.

The largest of the Broads, Hickling is a year-round haven for wildlife. It's easy to spend a day walking around its boardwalk trails or, in summer, gently whiling away a couple of hours while taking in the Broad's hidden corners on one of NWT's electric boat tours.

Between late May and early July adult swallowtails – the UK's largest butterfly – emerge from their food plant, milk parsley, to provide one of Norfolk's iconic wildlife spectacles. Swallowtails are an unmistakeable sight with their scaly mixture of yellow and black colouring. They have a distinctive red spot (and a row of blue markings) at the lower edge of their wings. The large caterpillars are lime green with black stripes.

Also present is the Norfolk hawker. One of only two brown-coloured hawker species found in the UK, the best way to tell this large dragonfly from the similar brown hawker is by its bright green eyes, paler body and clear wings. The species is confined to the Broads, though hopefully does seem to be expanding its range. Another interesting insect is the fen mason-wasp. In 2010, a large colony of this little-known species was discovered at Hickling; remarkably, the colony is thought to contain around a third of the known Western European population.

Although numerous plants and invertebrates occur, the Upper Thurne Living Landscape is probably best known for its impressive birdlife. For instance, the Hickling area is home to almost the entire British crane population of around 50 birds (the first pair arrived in 1979). Undoubtedly the best place to see them is from 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.

Stubb Mill also hosts a magnificent roost of winter raptors, with counts of almost a hundred marsh harriers recorded, as well as small numbers of merlins and hen harriers.

Hickling also has a fantastic historic pedigree in relation to the bittern: in 1911 the naturalist Emma Turner found a nesting pair of bitterns in the site's extensive reedbeds – the first confirmation that this secretive species had bred in the UK since 1886. A famous iconic photo of the downy chick was taken to mark the event. More than a century on and the species is doing well in the Upper Thurne, though visitors are still far more likely to hear the strange, booming call of the male during spring, than actually see this cryptically-plumaged member of the heron family.
The wildlife of the Upper Thurne Living Landscape is under threat, particularly from the effects of flooding and climate change. Although as individuals it sometimes feels like there is not much we can personally do to help against this, trying to think about the environmental impact that our activities have and to see if there is anything we can do to limit them, is definitely a worthwhile first step. And by joining Norfolk Wildlife Trust you can be sure that you are supporting an organisation that cares and stands up for the county’s wildlife – including the rare common cranes, bitterns and marsh harrier that make their stronghold in this corner of the Broads.

Above all though, try and get out and visit Hickling or one of the other Broads – perhaps take along someone who has never been before so they can see what all the fuss is about – and enjoy its precious wildlife and landscape.
Works are progressing well on the final stages of this important conservation project which will see 47ha of wetland enhanced through sensitive dyke clearance, scrape (shallow pool creation) and installation of new water control structures which will restore natural water levels to this site. These works will see the area returned to a functioning floodplain containing a rich variety of habitats including open water, reedbed, fen and wet woodland providing benefits for both people and wildlife.

Please note that whilst the works continue the Seckers and Cadbury bird hides and the boardwalk path will remain closed. The closure of the boardwalk means that there is currently no wheelchair friendly access to the broad. NWT apologises for any inconvenience this may cause.

Visitors will still be able to access a two-mile circular path around the Northern section of the reserve, giving views over the broad. The Observation Hut and Bittern Hide remain open.

For more details, please ring NWT on 01603 625540 before your visit. Thank you for your understanding.

News stories: a living landscape

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 ...
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...
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 ...

Habitats: Hickling

Freshwater grazing marsh Freshwater grazing marsh
Fen Fen
Woodland Woodland
Broads and gravel pits Broads and gravel pits