Holkham National Nature Reserve, Wells-next-the-Sea

Wildlife Area · Nature / Park
Holkham National Nature Reserve is England's largest national nature reserve (NNR). It is on the Norfolk coast between Burnham Overy Staithe and Blakeney, and is managed by Natural England with the cooperation of the Holkham Estate. Its 3,900 hectares (9,600 acres) comprise a wide range of habitats, including grazing marsh, woodland, salt marsh, sand dunes and foreshore. The reserve is part of the North Norfolk Coast Site of Special Scientific Interest, and the larger area is additionally protected through Natura 2000, Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar listings, and is part of both an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and a World Biosphere Reserve. Holkham NNR is important for its wintering wildfowl, especially pink-footed geese, Eurasian wigeon and brant geese, but it also has breeding waders, and attracts many migrating birds in autumn. A number of scarce invertebrates and plants can be found in the dunes, and the reserve is one of the only two sites in the UK to have an antlion colony.

This stretch of coast originally consisted of salt marshes protected from the sea by ridges of shingle and sand, and Holkham's Iron Age fort stood at the end of a sandy spit surrounded by the tidal wetland. The Vikings navigated the creeks to establish Holkham village, but access to the former harbour was stopped by drainage and reclamation of the marshes between the coast and the shingle ridge which started in the 17th century, and was completed in 1859. The Holkham estate has been owned by the Coke family, later Earls of Leicester since 1609, and their seat at Holkham Hall is opposite the reserve's Lady Anne's Drive entrance. The 3rd Earl planted pines on the dunes to protect the pastures reclaimed by his predecessors from wind-blown sand. The national nature reserve was created in 1967 from 1,700 hectares (4,200 acres) of the Holkham Estate and 2,200 hectares (5,400 acres) of foreshore belonging to the Crown.

The reserve has over 100,000 visitors a year, including birdwatchers and horse riders, and is therefore significant for the local economy. The NNR has taken steps to control entry to the fragile dunes and other areas important for their animals or plants because of the damage to sensitive habitats that could be caused by unrestricted access. The dunes are an essential natural defence against the projected rises in sea level along this vulnerable coast.
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Holkham National Nature Reserve reviews

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TripAdvisor traveler rating
TripAdvisor traveler rating 4.5
536 reviews
Google
4.7
TripAdvisor
  • Sadly, the house was not open but the grounds are delightful and we enjoyed walking around and especially liked watching the deer. Coffee in the cafe is truly disgusting and best avoided.  more »
  • Our family of five spent a couple of hours on Holkham Beach. The weather was mixed; windy, rainy and sunny- but it didn't matter because of the beautiful sandy beach. The kids went in the sea and we.....  more »
  • It’s hard not to laugh about some of these reviews. The horror about paying 9 quid for a whole family day out or the fact it’s a long walk to the beach!?!? This is one of the most STUNNING places to....  more »
Google
  • Beautiful amazing place. We've been visiting for years. Lovely people and wonderful beach to relax and forget about everyday life. We travel all over the country and this place is the only beach we'll sit in the car for two hours to go to for a day trip to. The wooded walk is lovely and when you get onto the beach the sand is fantastic. One of the best places to explore in the uk.
  • A truly beautiful place. Friendly people, stunning scenery. A relaxed atmosphere, plenty of coastal walks. Stayed at Wells next the sea. Beautiful old fashioned village and the beach had a wood that you can walk through to get there. Dogs permitted on one side of the beach. Quay side restaurants offer fantastic food. Wanted to keep this place secret but thought everyone should visit at least once in their life. Stunning 😍😍😍
  • This is a must if you are in the area. Parking is very good. The walk to the beach may feel a little long but it’s worth it just to walk through all the great scenery. Stop by the look out for some information on the area and grab a snack in the cafe. They give free biodegradable cups for you to fill with water (free). Even on a sunny bank holiday you can escape the crowds on this beach. It’s great. Just go.
  • Absolute family favourite beach, have been coming here since childhood and now bring my own 3 children. With the new toilets it's even better. Also discovered that with all day beach car park ticket (£9) you can park across the road at Holkham Hall for free. There is a great adventure play park, my kids aged 9, 11 and 14 loved it. When you drive in, go through a arched gate, over cattle grid and follow road round, the car park is ahead on the left. (don't do as I did the first time and pull onto the grass on right hand side where other cars were parked. They didn't like that!)
  • A real "wow" location. Unspoilt, windswept, natural landscape, sculpted by the wind and waves. Yes, the toilets are a mile away, and yes people bring dogs, but there is so much sand and sea and sky, nobody frets about the little things. The new visitor centre is an attraction in itself with contemporary yet considerate architecture, as well as fair trade latte and clean toilets. The Norfolk Wildlife Trust were hosting free hands-on owl-pellet dissection when we visited, and the centre will inform and inspire you before you head out to the beach through through the pine woodland. Most of the walk is on wooden boards and compacted hard sand, so is suitable for those with mobility needs (and a sense of adventure). The sea is shallow without any shelving, so is great for learning body boarding and those less confident in the water. The dunes are not extensive, but provide some shelter from the wind and enough curiosity for young explorers. I would strongly recommend bringing a windbreak.

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