Winter wildlife trail in Norfolk.
1. Winter walk at Congham Hall Hotel
Set off on an easy, three mile, self-guided walk from the hotel that will take you through Grimston Warren and Roydon Common, a site of special scientific interest and the largest surviving open heath in West Norfolk, to discover the reserve’s fascinating winter secrets. On this three-hour ramble expect to see Dartmoor ponies and British white cattle grazing on the frost-covered heather, natural mowers brought here to help gently maintain a healthy heath. Hares might also make an appearance in the short grass. While glimpses of Hen Harriers, Merlin and even the Great Grey Shrike are possible sights in the skies above.
Congham Hall’s winter walk to Roydon Common is available to download on its website, along with the Nature Trail. Congham Hall Hotel, Lynn Road, Grimston, King’s Lynn, Norfolk PE32 1AH (01485 600250; www.conghamhallhotel.co.uk).
2. Pink-footed geese on The Wash
Every winter, the Wash at Snettisham hosts one of the UK’s greatest wildlife spectacles when more than 40,000 pink-footed geese flock here from their breeding grounds in Iceland, Greenland and Spitsbergen. At dusk and dawn, the sky swirls with the wildfowl as they emerge en masse from their roosts to feed on the mudflats. For a closer look, consult the RSPB’s tide timetables – during big tides, the encroaching sea pushes the geese onto the banks and islands in front of the RSPB hides. To find out more, join a Pink-footed Geese Breakfast Walk, led by guides from nearby RSPB Titchwell – but be prepared to rise early, these rambles start at 6.30am. More top-notch birdwatching is on offer at the Titchwell reserve, which also has guided walks and talks to enjoy.
Snettisham RSPB Reserve, Beach Road, Snettisham, PE31 7RA. RSPB Titchwell (01485 210779; www.rspb.org.uk/titchwell).
3. Deer at Snettisham Park
Go on a deer safari at Snettisham Park, a working farm that’s also home to a herd of red deer. This family friendly, 45-minute trailer ride features an interesting and informative commentary and offers the chance to get up close and hand-feed deer nuts to the animals. At this time of year, the 60 or so hinds and two magnificent stags will be wearing their shaggy winter coats.
Snettisham Park, Bircham Road, Snettisham, King’s Lynn PE31 7NG (01485 542425; www.snettishampark.co.uk).
4. Seal pups at Blakeney Point
This four-mile-long spit is the site of England’s largest colony of grey seals. Winter marks the breeding season, October to January, when the pups emerge covered in silky white fur, and the beach becomes a nursery, where the females feed their young for three weeks before leaving them to fend for themselves. Hard on the heels of pupping comes the mating season, a torrid time on the shingle, when the bull seals fight for territory and mates. Viewing seals is a sensitive pursuit, best done by boat to avoid disturbing the animals, but it’s also possible to follow a three-mile trail out to the colony on foot.
Blakeney Point, Blakeney National Nature Reserve, Blakeney, Holt NR25 7NW (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/blakeney-national-nature-reserve). Regular boat trips are offered in winter by Beans Boat Trips (01263 740505) and Temples Seal Trips (01263 740791) from Morston Quay, Morston Lane, Morston, NR25 7AA.
5. Red Squirrels at Pensthorpe Natural Park
The plight of the red squirrel is well known, their numbers have diminished due to centuries of felling of our forests and, later, a virus carried by their grey cousins. At Pensthorpe, they’re working hard to boost numbers with a breeding programme, as well as re-introducing these animals to the British countryside. Squirrels don’t hibernate and are active year round, but choose a milder day to ensure they’re not tucked up in their dreys, because there’s some good viewing of these bushy-tailed creatures to be had at Pensthorpe’s three large enclosures linked by overhead runs.
Pensthorpe Natural Park, Fakenham Road, Fakenham, NR21 0LN (01328 851465; www.pensthorpe.com).