NWT East Wretham Heath was purchased by the Trust at the start of the Second World War, making it the oldest Breckland nature reserve.
Parts of the site were ploughed during the Second World War and subsequently farmed, but careful management and controlled grazing, in particular by the site’s numerous rabbits, have restored the open heath habitat. Today, the short, close-cropped grassland is home to many rare species of plant and insect, as well as scarce breeding birds including woodlark and redstart; stone curlews are also seen occasionally.
Among the site’s other interesting features are its meres. Two of these, Langmere and Ringmere, have fluctuating water levels fed by rising ground water and sometimes dry up altogether. A hide overlooks Langmere, with additional viewing shelters at Fenmere and Ringmere; numerous waterbirds can be found on these during higher water levels (the site can be dry for years) with migrating wading birds, ducks and geese in spring and autumn, as well as many interesting aquatic invertebrates. As well as rabbits, the reserve also supports a number of other mammals including stoats and roe and muntjac deer.
With an abundance of rabbits to hunt (the rabbit’s larger size is no deterrent), it’s not uncommon to see a stoat scampering across the open grassland of East Wretham Heath. Stoats are larger than weasels, and their tail is much longer with a black tip.
The reserve contains an old Scots Pine plantation thought to have been planted in the early nineteenth century, around the time of the Battle of Waterloo. These gnarled old trees contrast with the young, regular stands of conifers that predominate elsewhere in the Brecks.
Leave Thetford on the A1075 heading northeast towards Watton. After 5km (3 miles) turn left into the nature reserve car park.
From the car park, a gate then grassy path leads to an accessible hide overlooking Langmere.
Birds - Willow warbler, woodlark, tree pipit, wheatear, gadwall, teal, shoveler, curlew, little grebe, skylark
Plants - Early forget-me-not, lesser stitchwort, wall bedstraw
Insects - Small copper
Reptiles - Adder, grass snake, common lizard
Birds - Redstart, willow warbler, woodlark, tree pipit, curlew, little grebe, skylark
Plants - Early forget- me-not, mossy stonecrop, heath bedstraw, harebell, lesser stitchwort, viper’s bugloss
Insects Essex skipper
Reptiles - Adder, grass snake
Birds - Fieldfare, teal, redwing, gadwall, shoveler, curlew, snipe, little grebe, skylark
Birds - Fieldfare, redwing, gadwall, teal, shoveler, curlew, snipe,
little grebe, skylark, crossbill, occasional hawfinch
Be sure to watch for impressive gatherings of ducks and geese on the meres on migration and in winter.