By David Winlo
September is drawing nearer, bringing with it your chance to explore the nature in and around UEA. In my last article, I gave some tips as to where to go on campus to experience some nature. This time, we’re going to stray much further afield, and see what there is to see in the rest of Norwich and Norfolk.
With the exception of the green areas at UEA, I will admit that Norwich isn’t the best place to go and see wildlife. That’s not to say that if you’re out in the city, you can’t get away from the busy shopping streets and find a nice park to visit. I recently visited Eaton Park a few nights in a row. This was not to watch squirrels leaping through the trees, as Eaton Park is definitely more geared towards giving humans nice grassy areas to ‘leap about’ in, and so doesn’t contain many trees away from the edges and boundaries between areas. I didn’t even go to try and spot the fish in the fishpond, though that can easily add a little something to any biologist’s visit. No, I went to see bats, and see them I did! Not only did the hand-held detector I brought along not really cease chirping for any length of time after a certain point in the evening, I saw many of the bats I was detecting as they flew over the fishpond catching insects. I hadn’t seen many wild bats before starting my project, but after a few visits to Eaton Park, I can safely say I’ve seen more than my fare share in recent weeks.
There are other parks with other attractions around Norwich. Whilst they may not be the most purely natural places you’ve ever visited, any green area in a city is a good place to go to look for wildlife or just be closer to it when out and about. There’s Heigham Park, Earlham Park (which is very close to campus and most convenient for residents of the student village), and Chapelfield Gardens, the last of which always brightens my walks into the city, and is a good spot for a picnic on a sunny day. If plants are your thing, Chapelfield gardens and Earlham park in particular have a good number of trees as well as open areas, and make for good venues for tree-identification contests – or is it just my friends who do those?
The aforementioned bat-recording was not just done for fun, it was for part of my course. You’ll soon find some great green areas in and around Norwich in yours. Be it Lusty Hills, Bure Marsh, or, Swaziland… your course can take you to some really interesting locations (these are just some of the ones you might go to as an ecologist). Take the second of these as an example, and let’s see where else it can take us. Bure Marsh has been an SSSI – that’s a Site of Special Scientific Interest – since 1991, due to it being home to some very rare plants and animals, invertebrates in particular, as one of the few places in Britain where the green-eyed hawker persists. This is a dragonfly which in this country is very rare, protected by law, and tellingly known as the Norfolk hawker. Bird fans can also hope to see bitterns and marsh harriers here.
SSSIs like this provide great opportunities for fascinating trips out while at uni, and we have a hundred and sixty-three of them in Norfolk! Among the largest of these, at 18,079 hectares, is Breckland Forest, a huge habitat for many interesting bird species, including the elusive nightjar, as well as various plant and fungi species. Only forty minutes’ drive from campus, it could make a nice temporary habitat for intrepid BIO and ENV students as well!
With all these places to explore, whether you’re coming from within Norfolk or elsewhere in the country or the world, you can be sure you won’t be short of relaxing, beautiful, and fascinating natural areas to explore.