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Berney Marshes and Breydon Water - BirdForum Opus

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Photo by Karl J
Breydon Water Mudflats

England, Norfolk


A large tidal estuary, the most easterly in Britain, Breydon Water has long been famous as a haunt of large numbers of waders and waterfowl.

Three rivers, the Bure, Waveney and Yare, enter Breydon Water, the tidal stretch of which is almost 5km long and more than 1.5km wide in places. Low tide exposes vast areas of mudflats and saltings and there are extensive areas of wet grassland bordering the estuary.

Nationally important numbers of wintering and passage waders and waterfowl occur here and the area has a good record for attracting rarities. To the south of Great Yarmouth the outlet to the sea can be a good spot for gulls and other seabirds.


Notable Species

Breeding species include Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe, Mute Swan and feral Greylag Goose, and there is a thriving Common Tern colony on an artificial island. In the meadows, Northern Lapwing, Common Snipe, Common Redshank and Yellow Wagtail breed, all species currently undergoing a decline over most of Britain and other breeding waders include Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover and a small number of Little Ringed Plover. Black Redstart breeds at the power station to the south of Great Yarmouth.

Greater White-fronted Goose and Eurasian Wigeon winter in nationally important numbers and a variety of other ducks and geese can be seen as well as Bewick's Swan. More than 20,000 Northern Lapwing winter and other waders include Golden Plover, Grey Plover and Ringed Plover Common Snipe, godwits and Eurasian Curlew.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl regularly hunt the area in winter, often joined by Merlin, Peregrine Falcon and Rough-legged Buzzard. Saltings and grasslands attract Snow Bunting and Lapland Bunting and Twite and other finches.

During passage periods the diversity of waterfowl and wader species increases and there are few species from either group that do not occur. Dark-bellied Brent Goose is numerous on passage. Eurasian Spoonbill and Pied Avocet are annual visitors and many other waders are usually present. Other migrants include scarcer seabirds such as Black Tern and Mediterranean Gull and raptors including Osprey and Northern Hobby.

Its position on the North Sea coast makes the Breydon Water area ideal for observing passerine migrants and large 'falls' can occur in certain weather conditions. Divers, grebes and gulls, sometimes skuas, Northern Gannet and Northern Fulmar, can be seen at sea from the rivermouth. Glaucous Gull is often present in winter and Purple Sandpiper is regular at Yarmouth harbour.


The long history of shooting over Breydon Water and the surrounding marshes has resulted in a long list of rarities and just as many are recorded today.

Of the larger wading birds species such as Little Bittern, Western Cattle Egret and Black-crowned Night Heron, Squacco Heron and Purple Heron have been recorded as well as Black Stork and White Stork and Glossy Ibis. Escaped flamingoes and pelicans often manage to find their way to this estuary.

Rare waterfowl have included Lesser White-fronted Goose, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck and Bufflehead but the list of waders is excellent for an east coast location. From North America have come Pectoral Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper and Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Greater Yellowlegs and Wilson's Phalarope.

More easterly species have include Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Broad-billed Sandpiper, Great Snipe and Terek Sandpiper.


Birds you can see here include:

Red-throated Diver, (scarce W), Black-throated Diver, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, Northern Fulmar, Northern Gannet, Great Cormorant, Grey Heron, Eurasian Spoonbill, Mute Swan, Bewick's Swan, Whooper Swan, Greater White-fronted Goose, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Egyptian Goose, (scarce), Common Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Greater Scaup, Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter, Common Goldeneye, Smew, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander, Western Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Rough-legged Buzzard, Osprey, Common Kestrel, Merlin, Northern Hobby, Peregrine Falcon, Red-legged Partridge, Grey Partridge, Water Rail, Common Moorhen, Common Coot, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Pied Avocet, Little Ringed Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Eurasian or European Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Northern Lapwing, Red Knot, Sanderling, Little Stint, Temminck's Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin, Jack Snipe, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Arctic Skua, Mediterranean Gull, Little Gull, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Glaucous Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Little Tern, Black Tern, Stock Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Common Cuckoo, Short-eared Owl, Common Swift, Eurasian Skylark, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Northern House Martin, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Black Redstart, Eurasian Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Sedge Warbler, Common Reed Warbler, Bearded Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Common Magpie, Rook, Carrion Crow, Common Starling, House Sparrow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Linnet, Twite, Lapland Bunting, Snow Bunting, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting

Other Wildlife

To do

Site Information

Photo by Karl J
Sea Lavender at Breydon Water

History and Use

A popular shooting area for centuries, this still continues but on a much smaller scale but since the mid-1980s the RSPB has managed and protected much of the estuary and nearby marshes.

Areas of Interest

One of the best spots is the mudflats in the north-eastern corner on a rising tide. To view the main channel for diving duck and grebes the southern footpath is best.

Access and Facilities

Breydon Water is the most important estuary for birds on the East Anglian coast and situated close to the very popular tourist centre of Great Yarmouth. There are public footpaths along both north and south shores and hides at the eastern end. The staff of the Breydon Water RSPB Reserve arrange boat-trips on the first Sunday of each month. Park at the Great Yarmouth ASDA store to visit this reserve and for the nearby Berney Marshes reserve park beside the Berney Arms. This reserve lies on the extensive Halvergate Marshes, mainly wet grazing land with pools and ditches, excellent habitat for wintering Bewick's Swan and Eurasian Wigeon among others.

Grid Ref: TG464048

Accommodation is plentiful in Great Yarmouth and nearby villages but this area is extremely busy in summer and advance booking may be necessary.

Contact Details

Tel: 01493 700645 (RSPB)

External Links