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Wildlife – a guide to the local habitat

The Wash National Nature Reserve

The Wash is the most important National Nature reserve in the UK and one of England’s last great wildernesses, a place where you can enjoy true tranquility, as well as the excitement of some of England’s great wildlife spectacles. The Wash National Nature Reserve is the biggest reserve in England, covering over 8880 ha. It’s also the most important wetland site in the UK, with its vast mudflats and huge expanse of saltmarsh supporting thousands of birds all year round. In winter, the Reserve attracts large numbers of wildfowl including pink-footed geese, brent geese and shelduck, while in the summer, waders and seabirds come here to breed. The Wash is also one of the best breeding areas in England for common seals.

Saltmarshes are one of the most important natural habitats in England, with around 10% of the country’s saltmarsh found in the Wash. It’s a vital habitat for migrating birds, with plants such as saltmarsh grass offering grazing for wintering birds like brent geese and wigeon, while the seeds of sea purslane, sea blight and samphire, provide food for flocks of teal, twite and linnet. In spring, much of the marsh is covered with the white flowers of scurvy grass, while in summer other salt-tolerant plants such as sea aster and sea lavender attract hoverflies and butterflies. Birds such as redshank, skylark and reed bunting feed and nest here too. When the tide covers feeding grounds further out in the estuary, the saltmarsh also provides valuable high tide roosts for birds like curlew, oystercatcher, knot and dunlin. Of course, wherever you find large flocks of birds, you also find aerial hunters. Peregrines, merlins and harriers are all frequent visitors to the Wash, while short-eared and barn owls use the sea wall and saltmarsh as hunting and roosting areas.

Sand and mud Intertidal mudflats team with life, and the Wash is famous for the vast numbers of worms, shellfish, shrimps and other small crustaceans that live here. This protein-rich gloop attracts enormous numbers of migrants wading bird which arrive in the autumn to take advantage of this rich feeding ground. Spectacular numbers of pink-footed geese also arrive from Iceland and Greenland in early winter, and many roost on the offshore banks of the reserve. The Wash also supports one of the largest populations of common seals in England, and Seal Sands is one of the biggest basking sites along the English coast. Boat trips to see the seals are available daily during the summer from Hunstanton. Under the waves, the Wash plays an important role as a nursery for fish, notably plaice, sole, cod and whiting. 

Other links: click here for the BBC's Seven Man Made Wonders and click here Natural England's information page on The Wash.