Taverham Mill Nature Reserve- A Hidden Norfolk Gem

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You know, sometimes we go off thrill seeking or looking for that ‘different’ view that takes our breath away. I’ve never been one for pyramids, temples, skyscrapers or other artificial vistas. Half the reason I moved to Norfolk fifteen years ago was due to it raw beauty, coastline, inland waters and big skies. Meeting my gorgeous wife was the reason for staying here. Having returned from Snowdonia (and the inevitable hike up the mountain) a few days ago we were looking for something different, locally, to visit and I remembered that a nearby fishery (Taverham Mill) had been mentioned in one of those local advertorial magazines that get pushed through the letterbox. It had mentioned that it had been developed into a nature reserve and was open for public walks. I had visited the tackle shop on site twelve years ago when I dabbled with coarse fishing. As a shooting man, the dabble didn’t last long as I haven’t got the patience for angling. The impression from that first visit was of a very private and protected fishery … but I had got no further than the shop.

Having phoned the visitor centre a few days ago to check restrictions, we were delighted to hear that we could take our old lurcher, Dylan, around the reserve. So often in East Anglia, we find that reserves ban dogs (one reason I will never subscribe to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, despite the wonderful work they do). As a shooting man, I fully understand the need for control of dogs and use of the lead around wildlife and livestock. In North Wales last week we had found a completely dog-friendly environment. Not only on the beaches (where dogs had their own go-zones) but also in nature reserves, shops, pubs and hotels. Signs like “Muddy boots and dogs welcome” were everywhere. But I digress!

We turned up at Taverham Mill this morning with a touch of cynicism at the claim of a two-mile ‘red-route’ through the Reserve. We live about two miles away as the crow flies yet we struggled to imagine how Anglian Water and the workers / volunteers here could have put together a two mile path? We were greeted by Richard and Harry in the visitor centre and they explained that we would have to walk the ‘red-route’ (the longer route) outside the otter fencing, as we had the dog with us. Richard took our £6 (£3 per adult, no charge for the dog) and teased us with the offer of a £40 annual season ticket, with that £6 deducted. Yeah, nice try, Richard! He showed us the map of the reserve and we set off.

Within twenty yards we stopped by the weir to watch the waters tumbling into the pool from the Wensum and I snapped a grey wagtail on the steps above the torrent. I stopped and held my breath, looking around, trying to imagine a mill here long ago. The ancient willows dipped their foliage into the turbulent water and I was looking at a Constable scene. Swallows dipped across the pool hawking flies as we studied the foliage and listened to the birdsong. We set off to follow the ‘red route’, marked by posts with a crimson ring, and (to the right) it took us up the edge of a very secluded part of the River Wensum. The wardens have carved viewing and angling points through the shrubbery on several parts of the grassy path. This is otter and kingfisher country. On the left was an expanse of grazing marsh … kept under control by a small herd of Highland cattle. This was barn owl, kestrel and heron terrain. As if to prove this today we watched a kestrel rise from the sedges and settle in a dead tree among the woodpigeons, who didn’t flinch at the little raptors presence.

Half way along the river stretch, as we unlatched a gate, a pair of little egrets and a harnser rose awkwardly from a pool. I was too slow with the camera for the egrets but caught the heron as it circled. We crossed from the river to the woodland path, still outside the otter fencing, and met mine enemy, the grey squirrel. Several of them. The control of these pests is what gains me permission to many of the local farms and estates to shoot quietly and respectfully with an air rifle. I’m guessing they could do with some control on this reserve if songbird and wildfowl eggs are to survive.

As for the distance, I’m happy to report that we were proved very wrong. This was a delightful walk and the amount of owl, songbird and bat boxes put up shows a serious intent here to encourage wildlife. The otter fence is sensible and the photo’s in the Visitor Centre show how important it is to maintain the fish stock. This site is an perfect example of how country-sports and wildlife management can exist side-by-side for the benefit of all.

When we returned to the Visitor Centre I asked for more detail about access, as the Centre’s opening hours are nine to five. Owls and otters keep to a different timetable. Season ticket holders have open access, all hours … subject to scrutiny by volunteer wardens. I was sold. I bought an annual family membership on the spot. What a diamond this little reserve is … and right on my doorstep. Well done, to all that made this happen.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, Sept 2015

www.wildscribbler.com

www.wildscribbler.co.uk

 

4 thoughts on “Taverham Mill Nature Reserve- A Hidden Norfolk Gem

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    Steve Spurgeon said:
    September 11, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    An accurate and well written assessment of the reserve.

    No need to control the squirrels here however, they are not of a sufficient number that requires human intervention, or indeed that might consider them to be pests.

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      Wildscribbler responded:
      September 18, 2015 at 6:48 pm

      Hi Steve … someone probably said that 100 years ago in Bedfordshire. Look where we are now sir? 0.17M reds and 2.5M greys. I rest my case.

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        Steve Spurgeon said:
        September 22, 2015 at 5:02 pm

        Where to start! I was responding to your comment specific to the grey squirrels at Taverham Mills in the present day, though you’ve taken things to national level based on a historic event.

        So focusing firstly on Taverham Mills grey squirrels. I’ve been visiting the reserve pretty much on a weekly basis for the last year, the numbers are very much aligned with the size of the reserve and with the other wildlife that frequent the reserve. threat they pose to wild birds and bird eggs is minimal.

        In addition there is a good supply of Grey’s natural food sources, acorns, berries, nuts, fungi, buds and shoots etc. They only pose a real threat to wild bird chicks and eggs when natural food sources are scarce and I doubt this will be an issue based on the diversity of habitat at the Mills.

        If there is a problem on the reserve one might controversially argue that perhaps the reintroduction of otters on the Wensum was overly successful, a direct consequence of which is that the fish stocks on the river have been severely hit – chub, roach and barbell are slowly recovering. I’m a nature lover and have been thrilled to see otters close up in what I have come to consider an extension of my back garden, but it is clear to me that this has come at a cost to the fish stocks on the river.

        So on on to the wider historic issue you describe. Well we are not really in disagreement here. Again man intervening with mother nature has caused an in balance by the introduction of a non native species. I’ve not seen a red in Norfolk for over 30 years. The threat to the population to our native reds in the Lake District is real and requires intervention by man to ensure their survival.

        So there is a case for controlling Greys no doubt but a balance and considered view is required on a case by case basis and I firmly believe that Taverham Mills does not require control of it’s grey squirrel numbers at this moment .

        We’ve seen coypu (first hand on the Wensum in Taverham), mink and more recently
        signal crayfish, farmed in the UK for commercial reasons, then escape into our countryside and river systems causing problems for our native wildlife. Hopefully we will learn at some point in the future, though god forbid this should get in the way of a making fast buck for someone!

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