Spotting wildlife in The Broads

Take a walk on the wild side in the Broads, and discover what you can spot and where to go

If Noah was to build an ark today he would be well advised to make a trail for the Broads National Park and pick from the 11,000 animals and plants that call the park their home.

From mini-beasts to mammals the Broads is the UK’s nature capital – boasting more than a quarter of its rarest species, despite occupying less than 0.4% of its landmass. And out of these 66 are unique to the Broads with a further 31 rarely seen elsewhere in Britain, making the park a mecca for wildlife lovers. For example, The Norfolk Hawker dragonfly, the symbol of the Broads Authority, and the Swallowtail butterfly are among the better known species exclusive to the area.

The large abundance of wildlife is down to the unique habitat of The Broads – the waterways are actually the result of medieval pit diggings which flooded over the centuries creating today’s intricate mosaic of land and water. The National Park is actually the largest protected wetland in the UK!

“Water is a provider of life, the ditches, pools, lakes and fens are the places that wildlife seeks out"

​Andrea Kelly, senior ecologist for the Broads Authority

Discover some of the wildlife with this guide to what you can find and where to find it.

Swallowtail butterflies

Swallowtail Butterfly - Image: Terry Whittaker 2020Vision//TBNPA

Swallowtail Butterfly - Image: Terry Whittaker 2020Vision//TBNPA

The largest British butterfly, only found in the Broads, seen mainly in June around areas rich with milk parsley.


Norfolk Hawker dragonflies

Norfolk Hawker dragonfly - Image: Mike Page//TBNPA

Norfolk Hawker dragonfly - Image: Mike Page//TBNPA

These striking dragonflies favour well-vegetated marshes, reedbeds and dykes with clear, fresh water and a good covering of water-soldier plants.


Chinese water deer

Chinese Water Deer - Image:Shutterstock

Chinese Water Deer - Image:Shutterstock

A small shy deer, escaped from country parks, noted for its yellow-brown fur has darker flecks. It hides among tall plants in fens and carr woodland. Dusk and dawn are the best time to see them.


Grey seals

Grey seal - Image: Shutterstock

Grey seal - Image: Shutterstock

The famous Norfolk coastline hugged by the park also means there is a chance to see colonies of grey seals on the sand dunes of Horsey and Winterton. 

Large colonies can be found on the sand dunes and beaches of the Norfolk coast, with pups born in the autumn or winter and noted for their dense whitish, silky fur.


Otters

Otter - Image: Luke Massey 2020Vision//TBNPA

Otter - Image: Luke Massey 2020Vision//TBNPA

Numbers are increasing after being quite rare for many years. They hunt mainly at night and hide in a holt on the edge of the water during the day, but can be seen at Fairhaven, RSPB Strumpshaw Fen and NWT Barton Broad.


Bitterns

Bittern - Image: David Tipling 2020Vision//TBNPA

Bittern - Image: David Tipling 2020Vision//TBNPA

Famous for their distinctive booming call they favour wetlands with extensive reed cover. They are seen all year round but especially in the winter when wintering bitterns arrive from abroad.


Southern marsh orchids

Southern Marsh Orchids - Image: Shutterstock

Southern Marsh Orchids - Image: Shutterstock

This spectacular wild orchid has flower spikes up to 40cm in height. The flowers are a deep pink, occasionally lighter, with dark lines. Found June to August on grazing marshes and fens.


White waterlilies

White waterlilies - Image: Tom Barrett//TBNPA

White waterlilies - Image: Tom Barrett//TBNPA

With the biggest flowers of any native British plant and heart-shaped leaves these are found floating on the water at How Hill Nature Reserve and Cockshoot Broad from July to August.


Marsh harrier

Marsh harrier - Image: Andrew Parkinson 2020Vision//TBNPA

Marsh harrier - Image: Andrew Parkinson 2020Vision//TBNPA

This magnificent bird of prey breeds successfully in the fens and reedbeds. It is found in the Broads all year round.


Kingfishers

Kingfisher - Image: Shutterstock

Kingfisher - Image: Shutterstock

Just a flash over water of its iridescent blue and bright orange plumage is enough to identify the Kingfisher. Can be glimpsed all year round throughout the Broads.


Barn Owls

Barn Owl - Image: David Tipling 2020Vision//TBNPA

Barn Owl - Image: David Tipling 2020Vision//TBNPA

Its endearing heart-shaped face and almost pale colour is easy to recognise. Look for them hunting from evening onwards at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen and How Hill Nature Reserve. 


To discover more about the Norfolk Broads visit: www.enjoythebroads.com/

Have you seen other wildlife in The Broads? Tell us in the comments.

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