Though lockdown three may mean that life feels like it’s stagnating at the moment, the world around us keeps on changing as it follows the same natural rhythm it does every year. There’s something comforting about that, and even in the current circumstances it’s hard not to feel a little glimmer of hope as you see the first green daffodil shoots poke their way through the frost-bitten ground, or as you hear the birds singing brightly in the trees and hedgerows again.
Norfolk is a wonderful place to be at any time of year, and here at Wood Farm we’re surrounded by so many of the natural landscapes that make this county so special. In lieu of being able to introduce you personally to the winter delights on offer, and because so many of us are now knee-deep in home learning, we thought we would give you and your family some insight into what is happening here at the moment. And, hopefully, you might be able to join us for a winter holiday next year, when we can show you in person!
Blakeney Point, a National Trust nature reserve less than 20 minutes’ drive from Wood Farm, is home to the largest colony of seals in England. Both grey and common seals live on the reserve’s four-mile sand and shingle spit, and their numbers are thought to be flourishing due to a lack of predators in the reserve.
The largest of the two species, grey seals, give birth at the western-most end of the spit between November and January. Generally around three thousand baby seals are born each year, but this winter a staggering four thousand grey seal pups were born – which is especially mind-blowing when you consider that the colony’s first pup was only born in 1988.
While the adults are recognisable for their speckled coats, the adorable pups have round black eyes and snow-white fur. When fully grown, they can be as long as two and a half metres – that’s longer than your front door!
If there’s one bird to look out for in winter, it’s the pink-footed goose. If you’re used to seeing Canada geese in your local park then these are a fair bit smaller (though still bigger than a mallard duck), with a noticeably shorter neck.
Pink-footed geese only spend winter in the UK as they spend the warmer months breeding in Iceland and Greenland. Over 350,000 of them come to the UK every year, sticking largely to marine and wetland locations – so it’s unsurprising that more than 100,000 choose Norfolk as their base. Our fantastic position here at Wood Farm means that we have two great spots from which we can see these waterbirds: Cley Marshes (less than 20 minutes’ drive away) and Holme Dunes (an hour away).
As well as pink feet, these geese have pink legs and pink bills, complemented by grey wing feathers and a brown head and neck. These are not quiet birds – they like to fly as a flock in a classic V formation, and you can often hear them before you see them.
It’s easy to think that when the weather’s cold the animal kingdom hides away, but in fact this can be a fantastic time to spot mammals out here in the countryside. There’s one big reason why animals (and birds) will venture out of their warm homes at this time of year: to find food.
You’re probably used to seeing grey squirrels – they’re hardly our most exotic of resident wild animals after all! – but did you know that they have excellent memories? These furry creatures hide lots and lots of nuts during autumn, then they come back in winter when food is scarce and – hey presto! – they’ve got their own personal larder.
Voles and wood mice are also likely to be scrabbling about for food in our stretch of countryside during this time, though they themselves provide dinner (or should that be breakfast?) for barn owls. These majestic birds can often be seen at dusk as they start their nightly hunt across the fields. The relatively bare farmland also makes it easy to spot the distinctive long ears of a hare, usually as they sprint across the fields.
Think of harvest and chances are you’ll think of late summer and autumn, so you might be surprised to hear that this winter we’ve been busy harvesting at Wood Farm. The crop – sugar beet – is one that not many associate with the UK, though there’s in fact around three thousand sugar beet growers in the country.
We grow sugar beet here on a three-year cycle – during the other years we grow barley, for which the planting and harvesting is different. Sugar beet gets planted in the spring (so for us, that was spring 2020), and then we harvest it during the winter.
This rather unattractive crop – it looks a bit like a lumpy parsnip – was first grown in Norfolk over a hundred years ago and is today only grown in the UK in the east of England, and primarily in East Anglia. So, chances are that if you buy British sugar (and you really should!) it’s come from a farm in our part of the world!
Our gift vouchers are the ideal present for anyone celebrating during lockdown (or beyond), and will enable you to experience beautiful North Norfolk whenever you’re able, at any time of year.