There’s plenty to discover including Norfolk’s jewel in the crown, says Norfolk Wildlife Trust Reserves Officer, Robert Morgan, at Norfolk’s largest Broad this month

Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Hickling Broad and Marshes is a National Nature Reserve surrounding Norfolk’s largest broad and is a truly beautiful place to spend the day.

The vast swaying reedbeds are alive with singing warblers; often accompanied by the deep booming voice of bittern and the familiar call of the cuckoo. Guided boat trips take visitors to the tree tower that allows views across a stunning landscape, and several hides overlook large glistening pools that abound with birds.

Over its 70 year history as a nature reserve, Hickling Broad has seen the expansion of its ancient reedbeds, grazing livestock returned to the marshes and woodlands, and the reappearance of formerly nationally extinct wildlife.

After an absence of 400 years the crane returned to the UK and Hickling as a breeding bird in the early 1980s.

They were joined by the fen mason wasp, once thought extinct, but rediscovered here and now thriving on the reserve. Spoonbill, avocet, otter and numerous rare and threatened invertebrates find, once again, a home at Hickling Broad; but the jewel in the crown has to be the swallowtail butterfly.

If you haven’t discovered the swallowtail, you are in for a treat! The UK’s largest – and arguably prettiest – butterfly, has wings that are cream coloured with black and blue marbling, but their most distinctive feature is the colourful ‘eye-spots’ and lobed rear wings.

The swallowtail was nearly lost to us due to the degradation of its favoured reed beds. Numbers have increased considerably but the population is still generally restricted to the Broads, with Hickling being the epicentre of its range.

They can be seen gathering nectar on a variety of fenland flowers alongside the paths at Hickling Broad, with the best time to search for them being late May and early June. NWT Upton Broad and Marshes and NWT Ranworth Broad are also great places to look.