Meet our Champion for Wild Norfolk
Proprietor at Wildlife Tours and Education
Telephone: 01263 576 995
A wildlife tour business taking clients around Norfolk and the UK to see birds and other wildlife.
How long have you lived in Norfolk? If not born here, what brought you here?
I’m a Yorkshireman, and you can always tell a Yorkshireman; but you can’t tell him much! Born and bred in South Yorkshire amid a coal industry conurbation I was starved of countryside and green space. As a schoolboy, to find respite, I often took flight at weekends to Derbyshire. Catching the bus from the end of the road to Sheffield and then the train into the Hope valley. It was here I cut my teeth on everything wild. The birds, the trees and the open moors of the black peaks. It wasn’t until I got my first car at the age of eighteen I took my initial foray into Norfolk. I had read about the wild marshes and I loved them before I even saw them. Those golden swaying reedbeds and shingle ridges were my true home. I left Yorkshire in 1988 to move to Suffolk and it wasn’t long after I managed a foothold in Norfolk. In anyone’s eyes I was now on ‘God’s acre’.
Running parallel to the north coast, a kilometre or so inland, is the North Norfolk Ridge. Birds of prey use it to migrate along. It’s principally a glacial feature that runs from Holme in the west to Mundesley in the east. Sharon and I bought Falcon Cottage atop the North Norfolk ridge in 2008. I love it here. We’re an island oasis of trees and plants among a sea of cereal. The garden is visited in spring and autumn by a succession of migrant birds and insects that pass through Norfolk each year wanting to feed up and drink before they move on. What a place to start a wildlife tour business.
Explain the story behind your business…
Working 30 years for a bank gave me good insight into how to run a business. When the storm clouds were on banking industry horizons in 2007 I wanted out! I had been looking after a big chunk of the UK. In my last year with the bank I drove 92,000 miles. Something had to change … to protect my sanity. I took the kings shilling of redundancy followed by a three month sabbatical to work out exactly what I should do. It was a big change.
I had always taken people out to show them birds and it wasn’t until someone suggested I should get paid for doing so that I decided they were right. And so Wildlife Tours and Education was born.
It started with ‘The Norfolk Safari’ – now there’s two words you never thought would appear together. Picking people up from their home or accommodation taking them out for the day, showing them wildlife, feeding them and taking them back late afternoon.
I soon realised 90% of guests had a camera but only 5% of them knew how to use it. So began the ‘Photographing Wildlife Days’ I had a diploma in photography which I was able to use to good effect.
‘Birdwatching’ days came from the request of customers. Those that came soon returned. Not only with requests to see Norfolk but other parts of the UK too. I obliged with a suite of tours to whet the lips of any wildlife enthusiast.
If you had to advise someone visiting Norfolk three things they must not miss, what would they be and why?
There are more African Elephants in the world than there are Grey Seals. Norfolk now has the largest Grey Seal colony in England. To see a late winter gathering of around 1% of the world population of this enigmatic animal is something to behold. Don’t miss it.
Each autumn birds return from the high northern latitudes to escape the oncoming winter. They fly south. If conditions are right there may be a ‘fall’ of birds here in Norfolk. If the night skies in Scandinavia are clear and there’s a light north easterly wind it will promote the birds to set off. Sometimes in huge numbers. If the skies over Norfolk the following morning are grey, even with a slight drizzle, then birds will be grounded as they reach our shores. I have been out with clients and it has been literally raining Thrushes; in their tens of thousands. We’ve had to be careful where we walked for fear of treading on birds. We’ve watched Short eared Owls flying in off the sea landing breathless in front of us on the shingle. We’ve even had tiny Goldcrests weighing less than a penny land on our shoulders as they reach our beaches exhausted after their marathon flight. A ‘fall’ of birds is a wondrous natural event to behold. Don’t miss it!
Norfolk is home to one of the most wonderful of nature’s creatures. The UK’s largest butterfly is nothing less than a piece of living art. Anyone who has been lucky enough to see a Swallowtail will tell you one of these beasts gliding across our reedbeds is just something else! You have to come to Norfolk to see a Swallowtail. They don’t occur anywhere else in the country. Don’t miss it!
Norfolk has a 93-mile coastline. Which is your favourite beach and what is so special about it?
Holkham has to be up there at the top of the list. The pines have some of the county’s best orchids growing among them. The dunes in autumn are full of Earth Stars; fungi that erupt from the turf and split open to release their spores forming a beautiful star shape as they do so. The beach is a good place to watch Norfolk’s ever present population of Harbour Porpoise as well as winter visiting sea ducks and geese.
Last, but by no means least, what’s your best-kept Norfolk secret (supposing you’re happy to share it!)?
I couldn’t possibly say … oh go on then!
Either take a boat down the Bure from Wroxham or follow the small lanes to the south of Ludham. Either way you’ll end up at St Bennet’s Abbey.
A quiet peaceful place away from crowds. Chance of a Bittern, Hen Harrier or Crane flying around in winter and in summer the ditches are full of Dragonflies. A little piece of heaven on earth. But keep it to yourself …won’t you?