“ Address: Ranworth / Norwich / Norfolk / England „
The Broads Wildlife Centre is located in Ranworth Broad, in the pretty little village of Ranworth, in the Norfolk Broads. The centre overlooks Ranworth Broad, a Broadland lake which forms part of the Bure Marshes National Nature Reserve.
The centre is reached on foot from the village, or by electric ferryboat from Ranworth Staithe (surely a nicer way to arrive!). The centre's building actually floats on Ranworth Broad, being situated on a pontoon on the edge of the water. Walking to the reserve involves following a boardwalk that cuts through a dense reedbed. Here, there's a large interpretation board showing what wildlife is likely to be seen (and heard).
As the visitor moves along the boardwalk, other information boards give more information on the broad, its reedbeds, and wildlife. The swallowtail butterfly, the largest in Britain, is found only in the Norfolk Broads, and this is one of the best places to see them. Bearded tits and Cetti's warblers are some of the birds likely to be heard on the walk to the centre; if you hear a sound like a 1970's space invader laser (older people will remember this!), that's the call of the bearded tit.
The centre itself is a beautiful construction, designed to blend in with its surroundings. The wooden building has a thatched roof, made of Norfolk reed, apparently the best reed in the country for thatching.
Inside, the centre has a viewing gallery on the first floor (reached by a quite steep spiral staircase; children will love it, but it needs a bit of care to climb), with binoculars for visitors to use. The viewing windows look out onto the tranquil waters of Ranworth Broad. The activity on the water can be anything but tranquil in the summer, however, with coots and great crested grebes fishing frantically to feed their hungry broods, and fighting to get the best territories.
Lucky visitors in spring may get to see the great crested grebes display 'dance'. This is one of Britain's most lovely wildlife spectacles. The male and female approach each other, carrying weed in their beaks, shaking their heads from side to side as they get closer. When they meet, they point their beaks to the sky and rise out of the water together, then fall back to the surface, only to repeat the process; this touching display is wonderful to witness.
The centre has a display on the ecology of the Norfolk Broads and the wonderful wildlife that inhabits it. One exhibit some people may find distressing is the stuffed animals. Here, birds and mammals are shown, with their lifeless bodies, posed in life like positions. Clearly, these were mounted many years ago, and do give the visitor the chance to see these marvellous animals close up, but some can find them in poor taste.
Other exhibits are less controversial. There are some wonderful models of Broads life, together with some amazing paintings and photographs.
There is also a simulation showing how the wash from boats can damage the river and lake shores (one of the biggest areas of concern for the Norfolk Broads because of the high level of boat traffic). Hopefully, this will convince some of the (few) boat owners who don't respect the speed limits, to slow down.
The centre houses a small shop where gifts can be bought, as well as a limited number of refreshments.
The Norfolk Broads is a special area, and this lovely wildlife centre gives the visitor a glimpse of its history and shows just why the area must be preserved for its wildlife for future generations to enjoy.
If in the area, be sure to visit the nearby St Helen's church. This beautiful little church was built in 1390 and its interior has many original features that give the visitor a real impression of the church's age. The church has a tall tower, reached by a steep stone staircase (mind your head going through the trap door at the top!). The view from the top is breathtaking, as the Bure Marshes are displayed below you; emerald carpets of reed interspersed with sparking blue water of the river and Broads.
Close to the church is the Malster's Pub. This is a good family pub where visitors can get a reasonable meal at reasonable prices (the beer is very nice, too).
Finally, a word of caution if you're in the area at dawn; Ranworth is apparently haunted. A monk, whose colleagues were murdered during the dissolution, remained in the ruins of his monastery until the day he died. He was buried at St Helen's church. The monk appears at day break, rowing a small boat, with a little dog standing at the bow. The monk proceeds to row across the broad, towards the church where he worked so many years ago.
Be sure to bring your binoculars to get a close up view of the various bird species and marsh wildlife!