Drayton & Taverham

Get close to nature in Taverham this winter

Just Regional
Dec 18, 2014 9 mins read

Since it opened in May this year, lots of you have been making the most of having Taverham Mill Nature reserve on our doorstep. And for Taverham resident Steve Spurgeon it has been a fantastic new place to explore…

Tucked away to the western edge of the village, Taverham Mill Fishery and Nature Reserve is a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered. The main lake, The Mills, is a stunningly beautiful and well established former gravel working, spanning across some 22 acres. It’s a prime location for the serious carper with the many features and snags presenting plenty of challenges.

The site actually includes four lakes in total set in 100 acres of diverse woodland and fenland, the road linking Taverham with Costessey separates the main lake from the three adjoining waters, which are officially known as Costessey pits – though they will always belong to Taverham as far as I’m concerned!

The site also has access to an equally stunning stretch of the river Wensum, including two small but picturesque weir pools. More recently, owners Anglian Water have developed the site as a nature reserve with the addition of a smartly refurbished visitors’ centre and tackle shop as well as a brand new children’s play area and bird hide.

The excellent walkways provide easy access for all to enjoy the stunning scenery open to them as well as the opportunity to get up close to the wildlife on offer, all of which is right on your doorstep!

Born and raised in Taverham, I’ve long since been aware of the lakes existence.  As a boy growing up in the 70s and 80s I’d spend much of my time during the summer holidays fishing the river Wensum at Taverham bridge, often leaning precariously over the edge in order to position my bait in the right spot, or free-lining bread flake downstream in the hope of tempting a chub to rise.

If I wasn’t there I was at “Taverham” pits, where I’d spend my time fishing, swimming, birdwatching or just messing about!

So for all the time I spent in close proximity to the lake at Taverham Mills during my formative years, I’d never actually explored the lake itself. I’d heard about the plans for the nature reserve and having accessed their website www.taverham-mill.com, gleaned more in the way of information about the project and its progression.

So having liked what I’d seen, I decided to sign up for a year’s membership to the nature reserve – a family ticket at £40 represents fantastic value for accessing this site alone, but also entitles you to entry at some of Anglian Waters other sites, while day tickets are just £3 each.

Early October and the prolonged mild and dry spell of weather we’d enjoyed throughout September comes to an abrupt end. The first weekend of the month sees strengthening winds and a spell of persistent rain.The soggy start to the weekend then gives way to a cold Saturday night and my 6.30am start on Sunday morning is met with clear skies and a ground frost.

I arrive at the reserve at around 6.45am, the sun is struggling to rise above the tree line to the east, but it’s getting brighter all the time. Across the field the mist slowly rises like little plumes of smoke, whilst behind me the river Wensum appears almost suffocated by the layer of mist which sits tightly across its surface like a lid on a jar.

As I follow the grassy path upstream the crunch of frost underfoot is a reminder of how cold it is, and as the beams of sunlight now find their way through the tree tops, I’m alerted to the scampering of a fox from the near edge of the field, just a few yards in front of me, which I’ve somewhat inconsiderately managed to disturb.

Soon after I hear the sharp shrill call of a kingfisher seemingly flying downstream somewhere in the mist, though I don’t know it, a better view of this stunningly colourful bird and master fisherman awaits me later that same morning.

The resident grazing Highland cattle (or ‘the girls’ as I believe they are affectionately known), come over to the near fence to say hello (or just give me the once over), meanwhile the alders and willows appear to be alive with the fluttering and twitterings of small birds. I take the time to identify those I can, predominantly long tailed tits, blue tits and great tits, but I also identify two treecreepers before the neck craning becomes problematical!

As I reach the end of the accessible stretch of the Wensum a heron flies up from the far bank squawking its displeasure at being disturbed, whilst the barking of the muntjack deer from the woods over towards the lake makes for some competition.

I turn 90 degrees and head towards the woodland stretch along a sturdy boardwalk. The outer path follows the wider perimeter of the lake with the otter fencing on my left. The relatively recent reintroduction of this native mammal following years of decline has been an overwhelming success throughout Norfolk’s countryside (some would argue overly successful and perhaps with some justification).

The habitat at Taverham Mills offers a perfect natural environment for the otter to thrive and the erection of the fence is very much necessary in ensuring the fish stocks in the lake are not decimated by this much loved but predacious mammal.

Maintaining a balance that allows the dedicated angler and the otter to live almost side by side and in such close proximity can’t be easy to strike. Fish stocks on the river will have undoubtedly been impacted on initially, though the knock on effect will, in the long term, see otter numbers realign with its available food source and Mother Nature will win out as she invariably does.

The woodland habitat offers real diversity, oak and birch trees interspersed with pine, as well as various other trees and shrubs. The faint calling of one of Britain’s smaller birds requires  more neck craning, this time up into the pines and eventually it pays off as I identify a goldcrest, then another and another – it’s a bit like buses!

Taking time to pause for a moment or two will invariably reap reward, as you’ll be amazed at what unfolds in front of you, though patience and neck craning are necessary requirements.

As I continue to walk along the well-defined path I notice numerous bird and bat boxes which have been strategically positioned, many of which I believe have been actively used by those intended.

There are also owl boxes on site and I understand that a pair of barn owls successfully fledged three chicks this year. Barn owl numbers have dwindled during the particularly wet winters experienced in the last couple of years, so this is really good news.

At last the muntjack I’d heard earlier decide to show themselves, two to be precise, though they have no intention of hanging around and soon scuttle off into the undergrowth at the top end of the walkway.

The path opens out into an area which is predominantly pine, droplets of water formed from the particles of mist which have settled on the needles give the impression of rain as they hit the forest floor, though glancing upwards confirms that the sky remains blue and the sun continues to shine through the branches.

The next squawk I hear belongs to a jay, this beautifully coloured member of the crow family lands in the branches of a well-established oak tree on the edge of the pines. Jays (never particularly difficult to spot as a result of their colouration) are particularly prominent in autumn as they compete with the grey squirrels for acorns. Jays have been known to store up to as many as 5,000 acorns, most of which they will save for a rainy day!

The remainder of the outer path takes you close to the road with views across the lake to the left.  If you’ve not considered it up to this point, you now find yourself not only mesmerized by the sheer natural beauty of the lake, but at the same time compelled to access the permitted pathway (inside of the otter fencing) to properly explore it.

And I’m not disappointed, the lakeside walk provides the chance to explore the many bays, each of which offer something that bit different in terms of scenery and outlook over the lake.  The rising sun has burnt off much of the mist now, though not all, and where pockets of mist remain it succeeds in adding more in the way of an atmospheric twist to those already stunning views.

The only ripples that appear on the waters surface are caused by the mallard and greylags as they swim, or the occasional rising fish. I chat to an angler, who having fished throughout the night, has packed up his gear and is ready to head home. I put it to him that it must have been a cold night; however this hardy soul is seemingly not in agreement. To be fair the tree cover around the lake has kept the ground frost at bay, but still….

It’s around 9.15am now and as I reach the point where I’ve circumnavigated the lake walk, I am once again alerted to the unmistakable sharp shrill call of the kingfisher. Quickly surveying the lake in the general direction of the call, I pick up the unmistakable iridescent blue markings on the birds back as it flies, just above the water’s surface, moving from left to right. To my delight the bird lands in some overhanging branches less than 100 yards across to the opposite bank. This kingfisher is happy to pose as it enjoys the warmth now offered by the ever rising sun.

I watch the bird for a good 10 minutes through my binoculars, appreciating in finite detail the blue and orange colouration and spear like beak that makes it such an efficient fisherman, after which I decide to leave the bird in peace. I head back to the reserve entrance reflecting on what has been the perfect start to the day and it’s not even 10am – for many on this Sunday morning their day has yet to start…never mind!

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