Natural England - Dersingham Bog NNR

Dersingham Bog NNR

Dersingham Bog NNR is part of the Sandringham Royal Estate, comprising of three distinct habitats: mire, heath and woodland.

Desingham Bog NNR

County: Norfolk

Main habitats: Mire, heath and woodland

Why visit: Dersingham Bog NNR is 167 hectares (412 acres) in size and includes the largest, most intact example of an acid valley mire in East Anglia as well as being one of the last remaining fragments of lowland heathland in South East England. The NNR is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), a Ramsar Wetland site, and a Geological Conservation Review Site (GCR). The reserve is also part of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Since the 1990s, Natural England has been working towards restoring the habitats on the reserve, so that important species that depend on the site can once again flourish.

Star species: the low-lying mire is dominated by bog mosses Sphagnum spp. Several uncommon plants are present including; round-leaved sundew, oblong-leaved sundew, cranberry, bog asphodel and white beak-sedge. In the damp heath areas, the rare moss Dicranum spurium has been recorded as has the regionally rare Sphagnum molle. Sweet-smelling bog myrtle is a common shrub on the northern portion of the mire.

The reserve supports a rich variety of insects. Many species of bees and wasps, such as the white-tailed bumblebee appear to have shown marked increases in recent years in response to the restoration works that have been carried out. Recent additions to the reserve species list include the scarce, Bombus rupestris and Bombus ruderarius. A study of the reserve’s ants in 2009 confirmed a total of twelve species from the site, bringing the site total to 14 species; the most for any Norfolk site

One hundred and forty eight species of bird have been recorded at Dersingham Bog NNR. Of these, at least 56 species regularly breed on the site.

Dersingham Bog NNR supports nationally important numbers of breeding Nightjar. In 2004, a total of 28 churring males was recorded, the highest number ever recorded on the site. More recently, the population appears to have stabilised at 18-22 pairs. Other notable breeding populations/species include : woodlark six territories, grasshopper warbler four territories, tree pipit 14 territories, stonechat two pairs.

The Greensand escarpment acts as an important landline for migrating birds and during the autumn and, to a lesser extent spring, large numbers of birds migrate over the site.

Seasonal highlights 

In spring, woodlarks, tree pipits and stonechats can be seen and heard around the reserve, as they start proclaiming their territory, while from May onwards the nightjars will return from their African wintering grounds to nest on the reserve.

June and July provide a short window of opportunity to see glow worms on the reserve in the evening. Towards the end of July to the beginning of August, the heather breaks into flower, cladding the higher ground on the reserve in purple and providing a diverse range of insects with the vital pollen and nectar resources they require to survive.

Throughout autumn and winter the heath changes colour, with more sombre browns and greys dominating the landscape. Watch out for large flocks of pink footed geese moving between the Wash and the inland fields to feed. Also look out for flocks of small birds such as cross bills, siskins and redpolls and a wide variety of fungi, like fly agaric, birch boletus and the distinctive common stinkhorn.

History and culture

For many years Dersingham Bog was an important local resource to the local community, providing grazing for their livestock. Peat was also collected to provide fuel and the bracken provided important bedding for their livestock. Until the 18th century, the area was also important for its production of rabbits for pelts and meat, giving the name of Sandringham Warren, of which Dersingham Bog National Nature Reserve (NNR) is part of. This level of grazing and the continuous management of the site, meant that most of the regenerating scrub was controlled, therefore favouring the survival of the other heathland species such as ling and bell heather. Any scrub that survived was either used for fuel or used for pea/bean-sticks.

Reduced management of the reserve, back in the 1800s meant that scrub was allowed to grow back on the reserve as the local community need for the area decreased. Only occasions when the bog was periodically set on fire by the railwaymen casting hot ashes from the passing steam trains, kept the mire open by reducing scrub encroachment. Following the closure of the railway , the site quickly became dominated by scrub and the result was that by the 1900s, only a tiny fragment of open heath and mire remained intact. The remainder was hidden beneath a dense canopy of scrub, principally birch, pine and rhododendron.

In the 1970s Natural England’s pre-cursor; the Nature Conservancy Council became involved in the management of the site and began the back breaking task of clearing the scrub in order to restore the heathland habitats. This important work was carried out by volunteers using hand tools. In 1990, Natural England, formerly English Nature entered into a lease with the Royal Sandringham Estate and took over the full time management of the reserve.

Scrub clearance works continued throughout the 1990s and by the close of the twentieth century significant headway had been made in pushing back the ‘front’ of the encroaching scrub, to restore important heath and mire communities. The bulk of the scrub clearance works has now been completed and the main focus of the practical work revolves around maintaining the cleared areas to facilitate the restoration of the heathland habitats.

How to get there

By cycle

Sandringham is on route oneexternal link of the Sustrans National Cycle Network. There is no cycle access on the reserve, but a cycle rack is provided at the Wolferton car park.

By rail

The nearest train station is King’s Lynnexternal link, 10 km south west of the resreve.

By bus

For details on bus services to Wolferton village and Sandringham, visit the Norfolk Green website.external link

By car

Two unsurfaced car parks are situated along the minor road to Wolferton village to the west of the A149. The ‘cliff top’ car park is located at TF6626 2840, whilst the ‘Scissors cross’ car park is located at TF6682 2804.

Visiting the reserve

Parts of Dersingham Bog NNR are open access and permissive footpaths are provided.

The nearest toilets and facilities are in local towns and villages. Additional facilities can be found at the Sandringham Estate visitor centreexternal link. There is a circular walk connecting both the reserve car parks. There are information panels and signs onsite and an easy access path suitable for disabled visitors leading from the Wolferton car park to a view point which looks out to the Wash.

Advice for walkers

To prevent disturbance to rare ground nesting birds and the grazing herd of Black Galloway cattle, dogs must be kept on a short lead (not more than 2m in length) at all times.

Ground nesting birds

  • From February to September, ground nesting birds like nightjars, stonechats and tree pipits will be nesting on the reserve and are vulnerable to disturbance. For this reason, we request that visitors keep to the waymarked paths during these months.


  • A small herd of Black Galloway cattle (including a bull) graze on the reserve all year around. The cattle are docile and are accustomed to visitors. However, visitors are asked to treat the cattle with respect and dogs must be kept on a lead at all times.

School and community groups

For any visits to Dersingham NNR, please contact the Enquiry Centre on 0845 600 3078.

Want to get involved?

Volunteers play an important role in the management of Dersingham Bog NNR, helping with a wide variety of tasks including scrub management, wardening, monitoring and survey work and office work. We run volunteer days during the week and during one Saturday or Sunday a month.

To find out more please contact Tom Bolderstone at

Further information

To find out more about the reserve please contact the Enquiry Centre on 0845 600 3078.