Nature as a replenisher, remedy and founder of strength within difficult times – my favourite lockdown discoveries

It is not uncommon to hear someone say, ‘go for a walk, it will help you feel better’, when you’re experiencing a rough patch in your life. ‘The fresh air is good for you’ they might say, and you will contemplate this idea and probably take their advice and head out for a walk! But what’s amazing is that there is actually scientific research into why a stroll in the woods makes you feel happier. 

Exercise is a key part of course, but evidence has shown that there are good bacteria present in the soil that, through regular exposure, can improve the healthy mix of biota armouring the human body against all things nasty in the environment. Children are so drawn to playing in the dirt, digging their naïve fingers into the ground and always seeming to spread it all over their face and mouths. We need that natural exposure to the earth and its complex ecosystems in order to function within it. 

There is a reason why you feel so good when you go for that walk in the woods – the air outside is so full of goodness compared to the restricted airflow within a building. That’s why, when most of human society was forced to slow down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us found ourselves drawn to rekindling the innate connection with nature and found solace in our freedom to enjoy wild spaces. For a while and for those of us that were lucky, this was our only permitted activity and we relied on nature more than ever before, but this time as equals and not as exploiters. 

For so long, nature appreciation has been reserved for those of us with an interest in the field, children and people with too much time on their hands. But what if, as we emerge from this terrible time, we make respecting nature a bigger part of our society and rebuild with its preservation at heart. 

I want to show you guys some of the incredible Norfolk places I have discovered while in lockdown that kept me grounded in such an uncertain time. I’ll share some of the special sightings I was privileged enough to witness and hope they inspire you to adventure and find your own unique versions.

There is no better way to treat our mental health and wellbeing than that walk in the woods! I urge you, if you haven’t already, to check out these stunning places, take self-care days in nature and let its natural armour carry you through, creating the strongest version of yourself!

Buxton Heath

Managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Buxton Heath represents authentic heathland and is one of the few remaining sites of its kind in Norfolk. Situated in Hevingham, the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) features sustainable management through conservation grazing, so free-ranging horses and cattle make for a beautiful scene across the landscape. 

We had been meaning to get up for an early sunrise the hope of catching a glimpse of some of the crepuscular wildlife like foxes and owls, and we were not disappointed by choosing Buxton for this! 

We packed ourselves off at 4am and arrived as the sun was just starting to peak over the horizon. A misty haze had settled over night, creating a unique aspect view of the heathland and as we walked to our desired spot, we watched as a fox returned to the warmth of its den. The dawn chorus filled our ears and the sunlight dispelled the mist creating a celebration of nature I had only witnessed in the throws of an African sunrise in the heart of the wilderness.

Nestled in the Norfolk countryside, hiding from the hustle and bustle of society, Buxton Heath is a truly wonderful place for a walk at any time of day, boasting habitat specific birds such as nightjars and yellowhammers.

Holt Norfolk Birds

For long hikes, an array of habitats and the chance of seeing something special, Holt Country Park and Holt Lowes are brilliant picks for any wildlife lover!

Holt Lowes and Holt Country Park

As a first-time visitor to both nature sites, it was super fun to explore without mapping out the area, instead, stumbling across each fork in the path to lead us to something new and exciting! Holt Country Park provides ample parking and a few weeks into lockdown, had just reopened its cute coffee hut for social distanced refreshments. Equipped with our first latte for 8 weeks, we headed into the greenery and floated from sighting to sighting of common woodland birds. 

Passing by a small pond, we found ourselves at the entrance to Holt Lowes and continued our walk, embracing the new heath habitat we found ourselves in. As another SSSI, the species range is exciting, and we were lucky enough to tick off some new first-time bird sightings including a goldcrest. 

Perhaps one of the most special sightings for me in British habitat occurred in this picturesque landscape and only by standing to watch another species for about 20 minutes. Completely by chance, we caught a glimpse of a small bird nipping in and out of a bush and soon realised it was feeding an adorable row of fledgling chicks on a branch in the middle. Careful observation of the parent bird confirmed the group as a family of chiffchaffs, and we watched in awe as the parent raised its young right in front of us! 

Lound Lakes

Situated towards Lowestoft and just encroaching into Suffolk, I fell in love with Lound Lakes the moment I arrived, and that love exploded when I was lucky enough to spend time with one of my favourite mammals – the fox. I find British mammals so endearing, perhaps because (for the most part) they are extremely hard to witness for any length of time. Without dedication to early mornings and late nights, a lot of these species from foxes to badgers are notoriously difficult to see and even more so with illusive species such as otters and water voles. Easily spooked and masters of disguise, animal’s like these have evaded my wildlife walks for many years until my first visit to Lound Lakes. 

Sprawling across landscapes of fields and woodland, the public site is rich in rabbits, squirrels and circling birds of prey, while the lakes provide magnificent scenery to enjoy perched on a bridge or a bank. It is a popular place for responsible dog walking and there is plenty of space for children to run and play in the fields. 

Lound Lakes Fox

From a wildlife watcher’s point of view, the prospects of seeing the locally renowned barn owl or pinpointing the green woodpecker from its screeching call are huge draws for an evening visit. As late afternoon became evening, I was scanning a nearby field, completely off guard, when I noticed a pair of ears which at first, I wrote off as one of the many wild rabbits. Seeking to confirm my suspicions I checked through the binoculars and saw the unmistakable gap between the ears that could only belong to a stealthily concealed fox. I crouched down by the fence to hide my presence and watched on. The young mammal popped up and down in the grass, aligned itself to one of the nearby rabbits and eventually  tried to secure a meal, however ultimately dashing off into the hedge line fruitlessly. The evening was still and warm and I had just had my first real fox encounter – I popped the cap back on my camera lens and headed home with a smile on my face!

Sparham pools

With a mixture of woodland habitat dwellers and water species, Sparham Pools is the perfect place to escape, clear the mind and breath in nature at its finest.

Sparham Pools

If you’re looking for spectacular spot of natural beauty, this nature reserve, located just northeast of Lyng, ticks all the boxes for an afternoon out. Hidden off the road, the car park is immediately part of the wooded landscape and to find your way through to the lake, a small incline creates a fantastic reveal of the water in all its splendour. With many sight seeing points elevated over the pools, the views allow for a full landscape scan as soon as you arrive. 

Busy with water birds and the chattering of swallows and house martins, Sparham Pools comes to life in front of you, leaving you the only task of taking it all in. With the option of a circular route around the main pool or a short walk alongside managed habitat, the potential for great wildlife viewing is always high! 

On a sunset stroll, the pathways are littered with the pattering of baby rabbits and the challenge of guessing ‘who’s house is this’ as signs of badgers and foxes gleam at ground level. On one of my most recent visits here, I heard my very first cuckoo and set off on the trail to find it, exercising my location skills through sound. While a clear view evaded me, the bellowing of its iconic call gave me enough evidence to know the bird was very close by and this satisfaction alone was enough for me!

For more local nature sightings and conservation talk, please follow me on Instagram/Facebook: @samconservationphotography

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