Pensthorpe Park in Norfolk is a natural conservation park for birds, mammals, invertebrates and plants. It’s managed by Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and offers families with kids the opportunity to see a diverse range of natural habitats close up. We visited during winter where the landscape is leafless and a little bleak however during the summer months it would be a joy to see the colours of flowering plants and trees. If you’re looking for things to do with kids in Norfolk, read this so you know what to expect.
The Entrance To Pensthorpe Park
Now, at £51 the entrance fee for a family of five wasn’t cheap but it was very worthwhile, especially if you spend a decent amount of time exploring all of the areas. Annual memberships are £65 for children and £60 for adults however there is no option for a family membership. I know many families would really struggle to afford this and that bothers me. I always try to do/go to places/photograph things that are within financial reach of families and we are justifying it by not buying Christmas presents this year but instead indulging our children with our time and natural experiences.
At the entrance you will see a chalkboard with handwriting telling you of all the animal sightings there have been recent. When we went there were sixty-two different sightings of animals – now that is surely worth paying for? Given that Norfolk is of vital importance to many species in recent decline, I don’t object to paying to assist in the preservation of habitats or animals just once!
Getting Around Pensthorpe Park
Upon payment, you’re given a map (and if you have children a passport booklet). Walking around the trails you can explore the landscape and different habitat areas and collect stamps in the booklet. The map, although not to scale, is easy to understand and printed on toughened paper so withstands folding and general abuse. Junction markers are easily visible along the designated pathways, just in case you become ‘mislaid’.
If you’re visiting in the winter, you’ll need to wear boots and thick socks. It was a little fresh out and there were plenty of puddles and boggy areas.
There are a number of buildings on the site that have been built or renovated nicely including the courtyard cafe, the gift shop and Hootz House (the kids outdoor area). Being renovated was ‘5 cottages’, a building previously belonging to workers on the Pensthorpe estate and once home to the BBC’s spring watch.
Visit The Viewing Room
After paying and leaving the gift shop you’ll enter the viewing room. Here you’ll find a telescope and guides as to what birds you’ll see in the habitat garden and the ponds in front of you. It’s a great idea in building suspense and really gives the kids something to concentrate on.
Start Your Visit At The Garden Habitats
Once leaving the gift shop (where you pay) this is where you will start your visit.
A level, concrete pathway guides you through the Wildlife Habitat Garden (which is planted with species designed to entice insects and mammals) and into the beautiful water-focused setting. The Wildlife Habitat Garden has been created to inspire visitors to construct their own wildlife-friendly outdoor space. There are lots of signs and tips on how to make your garden more nature friendly.
The planting and features of these ponds and wildlife gardens provide food and habitat for a wide range of creatures, including Dragonflies and Amphibians, Bats and Moths, Beetles and Bees, Damselflies, Garden Birds, Butterflies and Reptiles.
The Pensthorpe Park ponds are full of an array of birds and with signs detailing species, it is easy for children to spot them.
Stroll Through The Millennium Garden
Leave the beautiful wild ponds of the habitat garden and head to the Millennium Garden which offers an acre of perennials and grasses. During summer months it is said to be full of butterflies and insects and during winter months, where it looks a little brown and bashed, it provides nesting materials and seeds for birds. It hosts a number of wooden benches and the hexagonal summer house.
You might even see an insect ‘hanging around’.
Enjoy The Wildflower Meadow
Apparently this is one of the largest wildflower meadows in North Norfolk (with orchids and wildflowers) however we ran out of daylight and had promised our kids a trip to the WildRootz. According to the website during the Autumn months, you can wander the Nature Trail over the boardwalk and watch the rare breed Norfolk Long Horn Sheep who are used to graze the meadow.
On the way to wildflower meadow, you’ll come across a little hide, signs about ladybirds and even some cranes. There are lots to keep the kids entertained and for everyone to learn about.
Don’t Miss The Wave And Sculpture Garden
This lakeside garden area features a number of sculptures and the semi-circular seating area. It is lined with oak and birch trees.
Quiet In The Woodland Hides
The woodland hides offer the chance to see birds really up close and in their natural environment. Everything from small robins to blue tits and pheasants. Even the odd squirrel if you’re lucky.
The river Wensum starts somewhere between the Norfolk villages of Colkirk and Whissonsett before it runs through the centre of Pensthorpe Park. Further downstream, the river becomes tidal and navigable by boat. There are fifteen windmills on the river straight, most either still working or renovated into houses or businesses. Just five were demolished or destroyed naturally.
In 1993, 71 km of the River Wensum was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive and the river is recognised as one of the most important chalk river habitats in the UK. It houses over 100 plant species and a rich invertebrate fauna.
Many areas of the river have been restored with great success however some areas are still in unfavourable conditions due to agricultural pollution, urban run-off and reduced functionality due to extensive dredging and straightening.
The Wensum Wetlands
Lowland wetland habitats are one of the most threatened habitats in the UK. Wetlands can be described as areas of land that hold a large amount of water, which can be anything from a carr (wet woodland) to floodplains and even river banks. These areas don’t always have to be wet however they are critical in flooding management and as a way of storing and purifying water for aquifers.
Opening in the spring of 2017 this area is only partially accessible, so I was only able to sneak some photos from afar.
Pensthorpe Conservation Area
Pensthorpe states that its most important focus is the conservation of wildlife and habitats. There are two areas, one where the flamingos live outside and other sheltered one inside a structured building.
The indoor-outdoor setting protects birds and encourages breeding. It’s a good opportunity to see special breeds up close as they wander around your feet.
Pensthorpe Park Really Caters For Kids
Although the gardens are a good walk for adults, they have really been created for kids. Everything is child friendly; all the signs are readable by 6+; there are loads to see and do as well as passport stamps dotted around the park to collect and not to forget Wildrootz and Hootz house, the children’s play areas which are some of the best I’ve seen!!
Courses At Pensthorpe
If you’re interested in improving your natural photography, Pensthorpe offers a six-week Photography course for £150, which I think is very reasonable.
You Can Adopt An Animal Too
If you’re still at a loss for what to get Granddad for Christmas, maybe consider adopting an animal and supporting Pensthorpe?
Actively Saving Species currently available for adoption are:
- Turtle Doves.
- Red Squirrels.
- Eurasian Cranes.
As a supporter you receive:
- A personalised certificate.
- Information sheet about the threats and conservation measures for the species.
- One day’s admission ticket (1 adult or 1 child).