Our Catfield Fen reserve is part of the Ant Broads and Marshes National Nature Reserve (NNR), which covers much of the floodplain of the middle Ant Valley. The NNR is one of the best and largest remaining areas of fen habitat in Western Europe. The area is a stronghold for the Swallowtail butterfly.
- Marsh Harrier
History of the reserve
Catfield Fen has been cut for reed and sedge for thatching for many years. BC Norfolk Branch (BCNB) purchased the reserve in 1992 and has managed it ever since. From 2012 BCNB is collaborating with the RSPB regarding management.
The reserve is a typical fen mixture of open water, reed, sedge and carr woodland. The reed is cut on a 1–2 year cycle and sedge, on a 3–5 year cycle. This is used for thatching and produces an ideal range of vegetation structures for a great diversity of wildlife.
The Fen has a long history of management, which also depends on the careful control of water levels.
Many uncommon and rare plants and animals are found on the reserve, including Milk Parsley and Crested Buckler Fern, and dragonflies such as the Norfolk Hawker.
The dykes and ditches support rare plants such as Frogbit and stoneworts. Together with the RSPB's Sutton Fen, these two sites alone are home to around 5,000 fen orchids which is more than 90% of the UK population. Old peat cuttings on the reserve provide a special range of conditions for water beetles and Catfield Fen is one of the top national sites for them.
The reserve is also the only site from which Trogus lapidator, the Ichneumonid wasp parasite of the Swallowtail, has been recorded in the UK.
Size: 23.8 hectares (59 acres)
Commercial reed and sedge cutting for thatching. Scrub clearance, dyke and bank clearance.
The reserve is just over one mile west of Catfield village, down Fenside lane (a cul-de-sac which is prone to flooding).
There is limited parking on the Staithe (TG 367 215) near the end of the lane.
- Grid Reference: TG 370 212 O.S. Map: 134
- Postcode: NR29 5DD
- Nearest town: Stalham
Catfield village can be reached by train and then bus:
- From Great Yarmouth station (13 miles): daily bus service 736 Yarmouth-Stalham-North Walsham, operated by Sanders Coaches Limited
- From Hoveton and Wroxham station (9.8 miles): bus service 54 operated by First Eastern Counties Buses
Site access and safety
As a wetland, there is only limited access. Even in summer, the reserve is very wet and has hidden ditches, vegetation ‘hovering’ over water holes and soft sides to banks and dykes. This, unfortunately, makes it too unsafe to allow open public access.
The footpath along the Rond - the raised bank around the boundary dyke enclosing the western and southern sides of the reserve - does, however, provide safe access right into the fenland. From its vantage, the reserve and surrounding habitat are more easily viewed, as are the Swallowtails; they visit the Rond for nectar and to lay eggs on the Milk Parsley growing there.
As well as the annual open day, there are winter work parties, when more volunteers are always welcome.
Most ticks are little more than an irritation, but a few can transmit Lyme disease, a rare and potentially serious illness which is treatable with antibiotics if diagnosed early. It is therefore important to be informed and take some simple precautions.
Notable nearby sites
Barton Broad and Alderfen Broad are adjacent to Catfield and are Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) reserves. Car parking is at grid references TG 356 225 and TG 355 195 respectively.
Swallowtails can also be readily seen and photographed at:
- Hickling Broad, NWT reserve with a visitor centre and parking at grid ref: TG 428 222
- How Hill near Ludham, grid ref: TG 372 190, to the south of Crome’s Broad, which is more accessible than Catfield Fen