Back to nature – a day at Pensthorpe Natural Park

Finally, after more than two years confined to barracks by the pandemic, we’re back on the road again. Not overseas: the timing still doesn’t seem right, and in any case the burning desire to visit far off foreign parts has cooled a bit. Maybe the passion will return in due course, maybe not, but unless and until our outlook changes there’s plenty to keep us occupied here in the UK.

Created by the gravel extraction industry, the lakes at Pensthorpe are now managed for wildlife. This shot shows only a small section of one of the reserve’s lakes.

The county of Norfolk is one of our favourite English destinations, and it was the obvious place for us to take our first proper UK holiday (that’s “vacation” to you guys in North America!) since summer 2019. And every time we visit Norfolk we make a point of spending a day at the wonderful Pensthorpe Natural Park.

Mandarin ducks are one of the more exotic species found at Pensthorpe

Pensthorpe started out as a large gravel extraction enterprise, with over 1 million tonnes being dug out and carted off to who-knows-where. But instead of becoming a permanent scar on the landscape the site has been sensitively transformed into something of real value to the local community, and to visitors from further afield like Mrs P and I. Today it’s a bit of an oddball mixture, part old-fashioned waterfowl exhibit, part nature reserve, part conservation hub, part sculpture park, part kids’ activity centre. There’s something for just about everyone at Pensthorpe Natural Park.

We were pleased to get good views of this Four Spotted Chaser

The Park is run as a business, which in principle sits a little uncomfortably with me. In practice, however, the owners – Bill and Deb Jordan, top dogs in a family-owned breakfast cereal company – appear genuinely committed to the restoration and protection of the natural world. There’s nothing to suggest they put profit ahead of sound conservation practice, and I’m therefore relaxed in saying that they get my vote.

“Wild Boar” by George Hider (2014), one of the eye-catching sculptural pieces dotted around the Park.

Bill and Deb win further brownie points from me for setting up a charitable trust, the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, to work with their commercial operation. Established in 2003, the Trust aims “to establish a centre of excellence, habitat management and restoration alongside conservation of wetland and farmland bird species through captive breeding programmes in national conservation partnerships.” Corncrakes, cranes, red squirrels and turtle doves are amongst the species currently benefitting from the Trust’s activities.

Pensthorpe is a partner in a captive-breeding conservation project to boost numbers of wild corncrakes

Our return visit to Pensthorpe last month did not disappoint, even though the management has yet to erect a commemorative plaque at the spot where I broke my ankle in a fall on a snowy winter’s day in 2013! The lakes and woods teemed with wildlife, and although there was nothing exceptionally rare to be seen on this occasion it was great to get back into natural world after the miseries of Covid.

Lucky visitors to Pensthorpe may stumble across a muntjac deer

It was also great to bump into a former work colleague, albeit totally unexpected given that we were around 120 miles (nearly 200 km) from the office and had not seen each other since she moved on some eight or nine years ago! Amanda is a lovely lady, passionate about sport, physical fitness and wellbeing, and – as I now discovered – birdwatching too.

Great Spotted Woodpecker, an unexpected Pensthorpe bonus

Amanda explained that she is currently working on the government’s Green Social Prescribing project. The initiative enables doctors to help improve mental health outcomes and reduce health inequalities amongst suitable patients by prescribing “nature-based interventions and activities, such as local walking for health schemes, community gardening and food-growing projects.”

Families of Egyptian Geese wander the Park, helping to keep the grass short!

I was previously only vaguely aware of Green Social Prescribing. But hearing Amanda talk about the initiative as we sat together in a bird hide, gazing out over a tranquil lake where ducks, geese, and swans were going about their daily business and squadrons of swallows whizzed happily overhead, it now made perfect sense.

A large walk-through aviary allows visitors to get close to Bearded Tits (aka Bearded Reedlings), birds that are tricky to see in the wild

I felt more at peace on our day at Pensthorpe, and during the visits we made the same week to several other Norfolk nature reserves, than at any time since Covid hit. For me there is no doubt that getting back to nature – close to wildlife and wild places, distant from the stresses and strains of 21st century urban life – revives the spirit and nurtures the soul.

“Stag” by George Hider (2017)

Before our visit last month it had been around three years since our last trip to Pensthorpe. But guess what – we’ll be going back real soon!

So, follow our example and get back to nature, guys. You know it makes sense!

18 comments

  1. Laurie Graves · June 22

    What a place! So many striking birds. I was especially taken with the bearded tit, but there were a lot of other beautiful photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · June 22

      The bearded tit is a strikingly handsome bird, but I always think “moustachioed tit” would be a more appropriate name!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Paddy Tobin · June 22

    We are with you in the attitude to travel abroad. We don’t see ourselves doing so for some time to come, or ever? Holidays with garden visiting in mind had been our habit for many years and we had a long run of holidays to Italy with short breaks to the UK. Presently, we are simply going on days out, no overnight stays for almost three years now and I miss some of them particularly badly – we had visited The Burren in Co. Clare each year for over ten years for walking and wildflowers and I miss that very much. How fortunate for you to have such a wonderful location within travelling distance. It seems to be well run and an excellent destination.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · June 22

      Travel has been a passion throughout my adult life, and for most of my career work was just a way of making money to finance the next foreign trip. I never thought I’d reach the point at which I find myself today, wary about the risks and anxious to avoid the hassle. Covid has definitely prompted us to re-evaluate our priorities. Our lives (and indeed, society in general) won’t ever be quite the same again.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Your essay reminds me that there are enormous parts of my state (Pennsylvania) that I’m not the least familiar with, let alone the rest of the USA. Foreign travel is great, but there’s more than plenty to see at home.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Platypus Man · June 22

      Very true, and the US as a whole is simply huge. I’ve just looked it up on Google, and the whole of the UK is only twice as big in area as Pennsylvania alone. And the area of the Lower 48 is around 33 times bigger than the UK, so you’ve definitely got a lot to go at without needing a passport!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. June’s Travels · June 23

    A great place and incredible beautiful pictures👏 When we had Covid testing in France last winter, I was nervous, because US requested Covid test for international travelers one day before departure. Covid pandemic has changed our lives significantly, and it is most certainly not over yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · June 23

      Yes, Covid’s going to be with us for a long time, and things will never be quite the same again. Adapting to the changed environment isn’t easy, but places like Pensthorpe definitely help lift the spirits…I’m pleased you liked Mrs P’s photos, positive feedback always makes her happy! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Carol Ann Siciliano · June 23

    This is such an engaging post, studded with beautiful (amazing) photos. The creatures seem to exhibit such personality, except for the Four Spotted Chaser — my favorite (great name!) — who simply posed to be admired!

    I’m interested in private individuals choosing to create a nature conservation park. It sounds like they have brought joy and integrity to their work. I hope they serve as a model for other wealthy, caring individuals! Now I need to go outside…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · June 25

      Thank you! Mrs P was very pleased with her photo of the dragonfly, and you’re right, he did seem to be posing for us to admire. Such a handsome creature!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. tanjabrittonwriter · June 24

    Dear Mrs. and Mr. P.,
    Thank you for taking us along on your excursion to Pensthorpe and for sharing your impressions in eloquent word and beautiful image. We never had the same Covid restrictions here as you did there, and escaping into nature was one means to cope with the horror and anxieties the virus brought (as it had been before and will, I hope, continue to be in the future).
    Green Prescribing really is, if one stops to think about it, a no-brainer. Nature has always brought comfort, if not cure, to those who sought it.
    I loved seeing your mandarin duck, corndrake, and mustachioed tit. Except for the latter, of which I have had only fleeting glimpses and no photograph), the other two would be life birds for me.
    Keep enjoying all the natural beauty the UK has to offer.
    Best,
    Tanja

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jet Eliot · June 26

    I really enjoyed this vicarious visit to Pensthorpe Park, Platypus Man. Your photos were great, and I was especially dazzled by the Bearded Tit photo, wow, how great to see that bird. I’m glad you were able to soak up nature so enjoyably.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · June 28

      Thank you, Jet, I’m so pleased you enjoyed your vicarious visit to Pensthorpe. The Bearded Tit is a real stunner, but sadly very localised and rare here in the UK.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. blhphotoblog · June 28

    Now there’s a place I know well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · June 29

      You’re fortunate to have this wonderful place pretty much on your doorstep…I wish we lived close enough to manage a visit more than once a year!

      Liked by 1 person

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