RSPB Snettisham provides the most amazing all-year round spectacular entertainment in the form of bird watching.
Adjoining Snettisham beach, the incoming tide brings in the most impressive bird displays you will see in Norfolk and possibly even in the UK. UK bird watching has never been so stunning.
Whether you’re into bird watching or not, the two highlights of the year are completely unique and without a doubt worth witnessing. One is the Wader Spectacular and the other is the flight of the Pink Footed Geese.
You’ll be completely impressed by the amazing display of wading birds taking off in their hundreds or thousands, bunched together in a close knit group like a swarm of bees, and then landing, as one, in a carpet of black/brown, either on the mudflats nearer the coastline or on to one of the numerous lagoons nestling behind the beach. The photos above and below are of a very small group of knots, in comparison to other times of the year.
Known as the Snettisham Wader Spectacular, you'll watch the most amazing show of nature. And if you want to see what I'm talking about on a video, fly over to my Norfolk Videos.
The joys of bird watching begins here!
Carefully pick your tide time and time of year to visit and you’ll be bowled over by the enormity of this spectacle. Here you can find the RSPB timetable for when to arrive at the reserve. Nature at its best, as with so much of the Norfolk coastline. However, if you arrive when the tide is out, you will be sorely disappointed. The mudflats go out for as far as the eye can see, and most of the birds will be far to far away for you to see.
Arriving at RSPB Snettisham in the car park (as of 2019, there is a charge for this car park - £2 for non members, free for members), you’re surrounded by a group of fishing lakes, usually with fishermen sitting quietly and patiently, and opposite the car park is a small pathway with a sign telling you the distance to the nearest hide. You follow this easy walking path to arrive at the lagoons, beach and hides.
I personally find RSPB Snettisham to be very different to the Titchwell RSPB Nature Reserve, or the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley Marshes, in that it has a much wilder, more rugged feel to it. You can take a relaxed walk all the way around the lagoons. There is no visitor centre, state of the art hides or refreshments.
There are a few steps up and over a couple of grass banks dividing the lagoons from the sea, so disabled access or pushchair access isn’t the easiest here.
The minute you start your walk, there’s already plenty to see before you even get to the beach and first hides.
Depending on what time of year you go, as you walk along the side of the lagoons you can see species such as nesting terns, geese, owls, egrets, hares, wonderful butterflies, ducks and so on.
And once you arrive at the very far end of Snettisham beach, you’re met with this vast expanse of mud flat which is where all the action happens. On a clear evening or day you’ll be able to see right over to Lincolnshire. (As of October 2014, you can now walk from Snettisham beach car park along the sea bank to this site).
However, to get the best entertainment from the waders, it’s really best to arrive just before high tide. That’s when they get pushed off the mudflats and fly up in spectacular fashion.
Having reached the beach, you can then wander along to one of the hides on the shore front, either Rotary or Shore Hide, then continue to amble your way to the wader watch point, which is besides the shingle banks, and marvel at birds flocking onto dry land. Or you can carry on further around in a circular walk to end up back by the beach. Plenty for everyone.
There's an excellent map here on the RSPB Snettisham website.
If you’ve got children, why not take them along to see something they will probably never experience again unless you live in Norfolk or visit the area again. They may not think it’s cool (!) but they definitely won’t be disappointed, I can assure you. And some of the hides have information boards on them which is a great help to the non-expert.
This reserve, open to everyone, brings the enjoyment of bird watching to everyone, and how fortunate we are to have this site in Norfolk.
The two highlights of the RSPB Snettisham year are
This is the other RSPB Snettisham highlight that takes place from November to January every year. It means getting yourself out of bed very early in the morning, but believe me, it really is worth the effort! The site and sounds of the geese flying over in huge numbers is just wonderful. And if you’re lucky and pick a beautiful morning where the sun rises over the second bank, you’ll be glad you came. And you won’t be the only one watching them either!
For the best times to catch this sight, have a look here on the RSPB timetable.
Arrive at the suggested time and then be patient. As you wait, you’ll see the geese out in the wash, a huge black line as they gradually get closer and closer, heading inland to feed off the remains of the sugar beet harvest. Suddenly, there’s a huge mass of black and the noise is incredible. Over they come, heading towards the rising sun. Amazing. You have to see it to really understand why everyone enthuses about it.
Once all the geese have gone, hang around because here you’ll get two for one (if you're lucky with the tide times - sometimes this doesn't work). If the tide is out, the knot will still be on the mud flats and they will give you a show to remember as well. The incredible colour change from black to white when the sun catches on their fronts is a memorable experience.
This Snettisham RSPB site gives you a fantastic opportunity to watch the sun rise slowly over the lagoon whilst admiring the amazing feat of nature.
Once the knot have left the mudflats, you can wander around the other side of the lagoon and catch them resting on the water’s edge, along with the oyster catchers.
You could visit Sandringham House prior to this, and then take them on an adventure to RSPB Snettisham, finishing off with Fish and Chips at the bar just along the road from the reserve.
Or take a trip to Castle Rising Castle, a castle almost still intact and full of imposing corridors, passages and architecture.