How you can spot important Norfolk wildlife this spring

·4-min read
A kingfisher <i>(Image: Dave Kilbey)</i>
A kingfisher (Image: Dave Kilbey)

Recording wildlife is an easy way to get involved in conservation, and help  with important monitoring, says Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserves officer Robert Morgan. 

Spring is full of renewal and hope, trees full of blossom, dawn chorus and the hum and buzz of countless insects.

This spring you can add to the enjoyment of a new season by helping Norfolk Wildlife Trust conduct their seasonal Spotter Survey - a wildlife survey of three important Norfolk species – which this spring asks you to look out for water vole, kingfisher and grass snake.

Keeping a record of the wildlife you see is an easy way to get involved in wildlife conservation.

Monitoring wildlife across the county enables us to understand how species are faring, and where they can found. Your records can help us identify areas which are especially important for wildlife, and can raise awareness of particular plants or animals that may be suffering decline or are under threat.

Each season we ask you to help us by sending us your sightings of three nominated species. You don't have to be an expert – all you need to do is tell us when and where you encounter them. This could be through seeing, hearing or observing signs of the species.

Here are some helpful tips for identifying this spring’s spotter survey species:

Eastern Daily Press:
Eastern Daily Press:

Water vole

Unfortunately, often referred to as a water ‘rat’, perhaps as a result of Kenneth Grahame’s water vole being call Ratty in the Wind in the Willows. It is a charming waterside mammal that has declined catastrophically in recent decades. Once common along every river, brook and marshland dyke throughout the UK, its numbers have been reduced by habitat loss, pollution and the introduction of the American mink. The mink’s ability to swim strongly and enter the water vole burrows has resulted in a dramatic loss of the species. Despite this, Norfolk is still home to relatively good numbers of water voles, particularly in the Broads and most notably in urban areas, where mink numbers are fewer.

The water vole is much larger than our other two species of vole, and unlike the common rat it has a round stout body, blunt snout and round ears covered by fur. They are typically associated with clean, slow-flowing or still waters with an abundance of vegetation. Often the first sign of water vole presence is a loud ‘plop’ as the alarmed animal dives underwater. Patience will often allow views of water voles grazing on bankside plants. If water voles are around, and with practice, feeding stations, chewed stems and their territorial latrines can be quite easy to find, providing evidence of their activities.


Surprisingly, one of the UK’s most exotic-looking birds is often overlooked by people, as its habit of perching motionless among riverside vegetation can make it difficult to observe. Once seen, the orange breast, greenish wings and vibrant blue back make the kingfisher unmistakeable, but for such a colourful bird it is quite shy. Many people’s view of a kingfisher is a streak of electric blue flashing low and fast over the water surface, whilst piping a high-pitched whistle. Like the water vole, they prefer unpolluted still or slow-flowing water. Being extremely territorial, after a good breeding season, kingfishers will disperse widely and can be found along rivers in our towns and city centres. It’s not uncommon to see one or two on the Wensum river in the heart of Norwich.  

Eastern Daily Press:
Eastern Daily Press:

Grass snake

Norfolk is an important county for the grass snake as our low-lying wetlands, their habitat of choice, suits their semi-amphibious lifestyle; although they are a reptile that can be found almost anywhere.           The grass snake is easy to distinguish from its relative the adder. Its olive-green body with vertical black stripes along its flanks is distinctive. Most noticeable is the striking black and yellow crescent shaped markings on the neck. When fully grown it is generally longer and slimmer than the adder, and is of course non-venomous. Their prey is mostly frogs, newts and small mammals.

Grass snakes are best observed in spring when they have recently emerged from hibernation. They are often seen sunbathing on an exposed surface or bare ground, but slip away quietly if disturbed. Otherwise, being excellent swimmers, ponds and dykes are the best place to look for a hunting grass snake.    

Record your sightings


Phone: 01603 598333


Important Note

All three of our spring Spotter Survey species are protected by law in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and unnecessary disturbance must be avoided. Intentionally disturbing kingfisher during the breeding season is in breach of the Act, including photographing them at a nest site without a valid licence.