Natural England - Bure Marshes NNR

Bure Marshes NNR

An extensive area of the floodplain of the River Bure, including four Broads, dykes, open fen and wet woodland supporting a wide range of plant and animal communities.

Bure marshes NNR

County: Norfolk

Main habitats: Wetland: open water (broads, dykes, turf ponds) tall-herb fen, reed and sedge beds, fen meadow, wet scrub and woodland.

Why visit: Lying at the heart of the Norfolk Broads, the equivalent of a National Park, Bure Marshes NNR is part of Britain’s biggest and best wetland, a mosaic of rivers, broads, ditches, wet woodland and open fens.

An NNR since 1958, with an area of 451.5 hectares, it occupies the majority of Bure Broads & Marshes SSSI and forms part of The Broads Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Broadland Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar site.

Hoveton Great Broad and Woodbastwick Marshes are managed by Natural England, while NWT Ranworth Broad and NWT Ebb and Flow Marshes Nature Reserves are part of Bure Marshes NNR that are managed by Norfolk Wildlife Trustexternal link.

A fine example of typical Broads undrained wetland, with a wide range of habitats and plant and animal communities in the succession from open water to carr woodland (wet woods dominated by alder and sallow). Four Broads, flooded remains of medieval peat cuttings, an extensive dyke system and areas of floating “hover” add to the variety.

Star species: Breeding and wintering bird species including bittern, marsh harrier, reed, sedge and grasshopper warblers, bearded tit, and many wildfowl.

A wide range of wetland plants includes rarities such as water soldier, milk parsley and marsh pea.

The fens and waterways support many rare and notable insect species such as the local specialities, swallowtail butterflies and Norfolk hawker dragonflies. Around and in the dykes and Broads you may also see some of the other eighteen species of dragonflies and damsel flies, otters, water voles and grass snakes, which are all found throughout the reserve.

Seasonal highlights

In winter, look out for herons, wintering bitterns and flocks of wildfowl on the river. Flocks of winter migrants including waxwings, redwings and fieldfares are often seen, while large groups of mixed tits and finches can be seen and heard moving through the alder woodlands to feed.

Spring brings migrant birds, listen out for chiffchaffs, sedge, willow and grasshopper warblers, and large numbers of frogs and toads breeding in the dykes. Common terns breed on a raft, visible from the Hoveton Great Broad Nature Trail.

Summer is best for butterflies, including swallowtails, along with many dragonflies and damselflies on the wing. Cuckoos call, marsh harriers quarter the fens while occasional hobby can be seen hawking for dragonflies. Otters can be glimpsed around the waterways. Marsh pea and mink parsley flower among the reeds.

Autumn is quieter, but can be a good time to catch sight of water voles near the dykes.  

Managing the reserve

Management falls into the three main habitat types:

  • Open water – seasonal cutting of dyke edges, Broads restoration by sediment removal and biomanipulation.

  • Fen – preventing succession to scrub and woodland by various types of mowing and low-level grazing by Highland cattle, commercial cutting of reed and sedge beds for thatching materials.

  • Wet woodland – non-intervention.


The four Broads are flooded peat cuttings, originally up to 5m deep but now much shallower due to sediment accumulation, dug from the ninth to the fourteenth centuries to provide fuel for nearby settlements and monasteries. After these were abandoned, further shallow diggings, the most recent in 1880, produced areas of turf ponds, most of which have been covered by a thin skin of floating vegetation known as “hover”.

Much of the land area was formerly cut for marsh hay, while some reed and saw sedge beds were cut for thatching. While commercial reed and sedge cutting is still done here, many of the hay marshes and former turf ponds succeeded to scrub and woodland. Some of these areas now support internationally-important wet woodland, while others have been cleared and are maintained as open fen.

The ditches (known locally as dykes) were originally dug as a transport system, to boat cut materials off the soft wet fen. They are now valued for their aquatic plant and animal communities, having escaped the worst effects of the nutrient enrichment that damaged many of the rivers and Broads during the last fifty years. Much of the research on the mechanisms of nutrient enrichment and how to restore damaged waterbodies was carried out in the Woodbastwick dykes, and is being put into practice on some of the Broads.

How to get there

By train

The nearest train station is Salhouseexternal link (4km/2.5 miles) then public footpaths and quiet country roads link to Salhouse village. Woodbastwick is the next village, 6.5km/4 miles from the station

By bus

There are frequent bus services 7 days a week to Salhouse village or Monday to Saturday to South Walsham, which is near the eastern end of the NNR.

By car

The NNR lies between the towns of Wroxham and Acle,10.5 km/6.5 miles north east of Norwich, off the A1151 (Norwich to Stalham) or A47 (Norwich to Great Yarmouth).

By boat

Wroxham is the nearest main centre for boat hire.

Main access points:

  • Salhouse Broad car park, Salhouse village, for the ferry service to Hoveton Great Broad Nature Trail. TG 319150

  • Hoveton great Broad Nature Trail moorings three miles downstream from Wroxham, north bank of the River Bure, opposite Salhouse Broad. TG 318159

  • Ferry Road car park and moorings, Woodbastwick, for Cockshoot boardwalk. TG 333165

Visiting the reserve

There are several ways to see the NNR:

  • Hoveton Great Broad Nature Trail is open from April to mid-September. Staffed by a Natural England reserve warden, it offers a pleasant walk via a single-file boardwalk though fen and wet woodland. Two hides allow views over the seldom-seen Hoveton Great Broad and its breeding colony of common terns. Signs and leaflet tell the story of the Broads and fens. Accessible by boat only - hire boats are available from Wroxham or a local ferry service to the Trail is run by Salhouse Broad . Moorings (TG 318159) three miles downstream from Wroxham, north bank of the River Bure, opposite Salhouse Broad.

  • Cockshoot Boardwalk is open all year and is wheelchair accessible with disabled parking facilities nearby. A walk along the River Bure passes Woodbastwick Marshes reedbeds before reaching Cockshoot, one of the first Broads to be restored by mud-pumping and biomanipulation. Car park and boat moorings at Ferry Road, Woodbastwick (TG 344165).

  • Ranworth Boardwalk and conservation centre are managed by Norfolk Wildlife Trustexternal link

  • Access to the remainder of the site is only available to organised groups, due its fragile and dangerous nature. Guided visits to Woodbastwick Marshes can be arranged with the Senior Reserves Manager (see contact details below).

Safety advice

Much of the NNR is wet, with hazardous ground conditions, and visitors are advised not to leave designated routes. Deer ticks are known to be present, which can transmit Lyme disease. Please take sensible precautions to help prevent the spread of ash dieback (Chalara fraxinea) in this area.

School and community groups

There are opportunities for higher education and community groups interested in wetland ecology and management to visit Woodbastwick Marshes, contact the Senior Reserves Manager (see below).

Want to get involved?

There are some opportunities for volunteers to join a small team carrying out practical management works and species survey. Contact  or telephone 07899 901 566.

Further information

For more information contact the Senior Reserves Manager on 01603 720788, or email

For information about Ranworth Broad contact Norfolk wildlife Trustexternal link.


“Killer shrimp”

The invasive non-native shrimp (Dikerogrammerus villosus) has been found in the Broads.

This shrimp has become widespread in Europe and threatens our native species. There is no risk to public health or pets.

We are asking water users to be vigilant and Check, Clean and Dry equipment and clothing to help stop the spread of all invasive aquatic species.

You can find out more about killer shrimp on the Broads Authorityexternal link and GB non-native species secretariatexternal link websites.

Invasive aquatic species

Help stop the spread

Check Clean Dry logo

  Check, Clean, Dry