Pensthorpe Nature Reserve, Norfolk

See captive breeding of rare native birds and mammals and follow nature trails into thrilling wildlife havens 

Published: June 11th, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Pensthorpe Reserve is involved in conservation programmes for a variety of endangered species and a visit offers the chance to see some rare wildlife, including red squirrels and breeding pairs of cranes.


The site, in Norfolk’s tranquil Wensum Valley, has a number of diverse habitats. Its meadows, woodland, pools, lakes, reedbeds
and rushes are breeding sites for many birds, insects and mammals,
as well as plantlife. In addition to the resident and visiting wildlife, there are enclosures for captive flamingos and for the cranes that are bred there for reintroduction into the wild.

Eurasian cranes were once widespread in the UK, but hunting and the drainage of their habitat meant they became extinct in the wild during the 16th century. Today, small populations live in the Norfolk Broads and at a handful of other sites in England. The Great Crane Project has resulted in 66 Eurasian cranes living wild on the Somerset Levels and Moors. This project to re-establish them is a collaboration between the RSPB, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust. The birds breed when they reach four or five years of age and in spring you may even get a glimpse of their chicks.

There is also a captive-bred population of corncrakes, a bird that has declined in the wild. The project is designed to restore corncrakes as a breeding species again in England after an absence of 50 years. In 2013, Pensthorpe had a record-breaking year and sent 122 birds, bred at the reserve, to be released into the wild at the RSPB Nene Washes reserve.

Pensthorpe’s red squirrels are part of the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group’s breeding programme, which supplies young squirrels to Anglesey. Red squirrels survive in the wild in just a handful of locations across the UK, but on the Welsh island, where there are no greys, the species is being brought back from the verge of extinction. Squirrels from Pensthorpe join others there from breeding centres around the country.

Pensthorpe has a variety of interpretative facilities, including nature trails, woodland walks, bird hides and a visitor centre. Activities, from pond dipping to bug walks to commentated birdfeeding, are designed to encourage children to take an interest in nature. In spring, they’ll especially enjoy seeing young moorhens, goslings and ducklings on the lake path.

Image © Copyright Pauline E and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons

Useful Information



Pensthorpe Nature Reserve is situated along the A1067 road from Fakenham to Norwich, one mile from Fakenham.
Sat Nav: NR21 0LN.


Visit the café courtyard for home-cooked food.


Sculthorpe Mill

01328 856161

Sculthorpe Mill near Fakenham also offers food and accommodation.


North Norfolk Railway

01263 820800




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