The distinctive pinewoods at Holkham National Nature Reserve

Nature Reserve

Pinewoods & Scrub

The silence of the pinewoods comes as a surprise after a walk along the shore. The cushion of needles absorbs every footfall and the high canopy keeps away the wind. So the scurry of a Grey Squirrel or the cone-tearing activity of a flock of Crossbills can sound like a riot. Three kinds of pines grow in the woods, Corsican (grey trunk, small cones), Scots (orange upper trunk) and Maritime (large cones in tree-top clusters). The pines were planted in the late 19th century, over a period of 20 years or so by the 2nd Earl of Leicester.

The dense shade and thick carpet of needles make life difficult for most other plants but there are a few specialities, such as the pretty little Creeping Lady’s-tresses Orchid and Yellow Bird’s Nest. Where the canopy lets in a little more light there are patches of bramble, Privet and Honeysuckle and on the wood edge there are even some Holm Oaks planted by the 3rd Earl of Leicester who brought them over from Holkham Park where they had grown since being imported from the Mediterranean in the 18th Century.

On its landward side the ribbon of pines is edged by deciduous scrub, a valuable asset to the nature reserve. In summer the birches and brambles provide nest sites and feeding areas for breeding Warblers such as Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap and Willow Warbler. In autumn this is the place to look for Siberian waifs like Yellow-browed and Pallas’ Warblers - tiny vagrants well adrift from their usual migration routes.

The main track runs through the scrub and is always a good place to see both birds and butterflies. In spring the early flowers attract post-hibernating species like the Brimstone and the Peacock; these are followed by the Orange Tip, then the Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Common Blue and Large Skipper.

Woodland insects along paths and glades

  • Broad-bordered Bee and Humming Bird Hawk-moths visit Red Campion flowers in the spring.
  • Dragonflies, especially Ruddy darter, Migrant Hawker and Southern Hawker are around through summer and autumn.
  • Scarce butterflies include Dark Green Fritillary and White-letter Hairstreak.
  • Big furry caterpillars basking in the sunshine will probably be Drinker-moth or Fox-moth. Bottle-Brush, tufted caterpillars in a hurry will be White Ermine.
  • Sand-dune sun-traps are always busy with hunting wasps and solitary bees, making their nests in burrows. Robber Flies and Assassin Flies sit around waiting for prey.