New bird hide at Pensthorpe in Norfolk

The new bird hide at Pensthorpe, Norfolk.
The new bird hide at Pensthorpe, Norfolk.

A new bird hide at Pensthorpe Natural Park, near Fakenham, Norfolk, will open up areas of the Wensum Valley which have never been accessible to the public.

The hide overlooks newly opened wetland areas and marks the first time in more than a decade that Pensthorpe, normally more well known for its extensive exotic wildfowl collections, has revealed new parts of its 700-acre estate to the public.

This stretch of the River Wensum and its surrounding wetlands is home to species such as Eurasian Bittern, Common Crane, Western Marsh Harrier and European Otter. The area is specifically managed to encourage waders to breed, while sightings of Garganey and Great Egret have already also been reported.

The new hide is the result of a £53,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and includes expansive viewing panels, plenty of seating and room enough to accommodate an entire classroom of pupils.

Richard Spowage, Reserve Manager at Pensthorpe Natural Park, commented: “The educational possibilities opened up by the new hide will enable us to excite the next generation about … the natural world and teach them [what] makes the Wensum Valley so special.”

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This new river-learning facility is the final phase of work by the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust to restore a stretch of the River Wensum running for more than a mile through the reserve. The restoration work has returned the river to its natural state, worthy of the highest international protection status it now enjoys.

Bill Jordan, owner of Pensthorpe Natural Park, added: “Much of our attention has been focused on ways to enhance the Wensum, which we are fortunate to have running through the heart of the estate. Our river restoration project has enabled us to install important watercourse features and reedbeds and a sustainable drainage system, plus reinstate meanders which were previously removed to aid getting water off farmland. Water Voles and Common Kingfishers are just some of the native species thriving thanks to the work.

“With the river restoration now complete and the habitat flourishing, it is with great excitement that we can now open the windows of the new hide to give visitors a ring-side seat to the real wonders this stretch of the Wensum has to offer. This new hide is on the opposite side of the reserve to our popular wader scrape and we hope it will encourage visitors to explore the site even more.”

The hide has contains interpretation panels with illustrations by the acclaimed artist and illustrator Tim Wootton, a former winner of the Birdwatch Artist of the Year, Young European Bird Artist of the Year and BBC Wildlife Magazine Wildlife Artist of the Year. The panels focus on four habitats – wetlands, woodlands, farmland and grassland – which paint a picture of the diverse habitats visitors can see at Pensthorpe.

There is also a second new hide – the smaller Farmland Hide – which overlooks the estate’s arable fields promising views of Common Kestrel, Yellowhammer, Red-legged Partridge and Northern Lapwing. This brings the total number of hides at Pensthorpe to eight and, as a result, has created volunteering and employment opportunities at the reserve.