Common Blue on Fleabane

© Andrew Bloomfield

Nature Reserve


As with so much of the English countryside the look of the Norfolk coast is an intimate blend, part wilderness and part working landscape. From Burnham Overy to Wells the low-lying grazing marshes north of the coast road used to be tidal saltmarshes, separating offshore shingle and dune ridges from the main coastline. The tidal creeks were large enough to allow ships to load cargo from a staithe at Holkham village. From 1639 onwards a series of embankments were constructed by local landowners, including the Cokes of Holkham. By the time the Wells embankment was completed in 1859 by the 2nd Earl of Leicester about 800 hectares of saltmarsh had been converted to agricultural use.

The 2nd Earl of Leicester planted the dunes with Corsican, Maritime, Scot and Austrian pines during the second half of the 19th century to create a shelterbelt to stabilise the dunes so the recently reclaimed land could be used for agriculture.

After the Second World War much of the land reverted to freshwater grazing which, together with the sand dunes, have become a haven for wildlife and in particular ground-nesting and over-wintering wildfowl and waders. The reserve was designated as a National Nature Reserve in 1967 and was managed by Natural England until 2012. In 2017, the Holkham Estate was awarded Approved Body Status under Section 35 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. This makes Holkham one of a very few privately owned estates in England to hold this status which enables the estate to manage the Holkham National Nature Reserve.

The management of the reserve is conducted by a General Manager of Conservation, two wardens and is overseen by an independent advisory board.

Please be sure to follow the Coastal Code which has important information for horse riders and dog owners when you visit the reserve. To minimise the risk of fire, the use of barbeques, fires and stoves is prohibited. Photography on Holkham Beach for any commercial purpose is not allowed without prior written consent from Holkham Estate.

Guided walks throughout the year are an ideal way to discover the diversity of wildlife on the Nature Reserve; click here to see what’s on.