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The Broads National Park

The Broads is part of the family of National Parks of Britain.

It differs from the other National Parks, with its own legislation, giving the navigation of the waterways equal status with the conservation and public enjoyment of the area.

Black and white windmill on the Norfolk Broads on a sunny day
Windmill on the Broads ©Shutterstock / Paul Cotney

The Broads Authority was set up in 1989 to "conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the Broads, promote the enjoyment of the Broads and protect the interests of navigation."

A traditional windmill pump on the Bure Marshes of the Norfolk Broads
Traditional Windmill Pump on the Bure Marshes ©Shutterstock / merion matthias

The Broads National Park is Britain's largest protected wetland, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. The area is of international importance; globally wetlands are one of the landscapes most under threat.

The total area is around 188 sq. miles / 303 sq. km., with 124 miles / 200 km. of waterways, encompassing the broads of east Norfolk and north Suffolk.

How The Broads Were Formed

Three rivers, the Bure, the Waveney and the Yare, together with their many tributaries and over forty wider expanses of water or shallow lakes known as 'broads', flow through the Broads National Park.

The Broads range in size from tiny lakes to the largest expanse of water, Hickling Broad.

Norfolk windmill in reed bed and fenlands covered in snow with heavy skies
Windmill in Reed Bed ©Shutterstock / Keith Naylor

The surrounding landscape is made up of drained grazing marshland, fens consisting of reed-beds and sedge and wet-woodlands known as 'carr woodland'. The broads, once thought to be a natural feature in the landscape, have developed through the digging of peat, which took place in the 9th-13th centuries.

Eventually as water levels in the area rose, the peat pits ('tarbaries') flooded and the Broads began to form.

Swallowtail butterfly on the marigold flower
Swallowtail Butterfly ©Shutterstock / Ivaschenko Roman

Wildlife and Conservation

The Broads National Park is home to 28 SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest), 9 National Nature Reserves and the RSPB reserve at Strumpshaw Fen.

This is a wonderful part of Britain to find many species of birds, over 250 species of plants and a variety of wildlife.

Native British otter on the grass on a river bank in the Broads National Park
Native British Otter ©Shutterstock / Nicky Rhodes

Many species, such as the otter, are increasing in number, since the Broads Authority began its careful programme of conservation.

Some are unique to the area, such as the Norfolk hawker, a rare dragonfly, Britain's biggest butterfly, the Swallowtail and birds associated with the Broads and fens, such as the bittern, bearded tit, and marsh harrier.

Barton Broad

Visitors can see for themselves the restoration work being undertaken by the Broads Authority by visiting Barton Broad.

Boats on the Norfolk Broads
Boats on the Broads ©Shutterstock / David Hughes

A boardwalk has been created at the southern end from where you can view the project, or take a trip on the authorities purpose-built solar powerboat "Ra".

Barton Broad is the second largest of the Broads, it is a wonderful place for boating with a sailing club and an annual regatta.

Getting onto the Water

Probably the best way to enjoy the Broads is from the water. There are lots of different types of boats available for hire, either just for the day, or if you want to explore more thoroughly, for longer periods.

Boat sailing on the river waveney past the berny arms mill
Boat Sailing on River Waveney

Boats at Horsey Mere on the Norfolk Broads
Horsey Mere

For a unique experience, take a trip in a Norfolk Wherry. Originally these shallow, black single sail draught boats were designed to navigate the busy narrow waterways and used to ferry goods.

Thousands of visitors flock to the Broads every year, either for canoeing, sailing, or just pottering around on the water, enjoying the peace and quiet.

The old swing railway bridge at Reedham in Norfolk.
Swing Railway Bridge, Reedham ©Shutterstock / Richard Bowden

Other Things To Do

However, boating isn't the only activity the Broads have to offer: There are 185 miles (300 km) of footpaths that walkers will love, lots of opportunities to cycle on quiet rural roads, or take advantage of all that water and go fishing - there are Eels, Perch, Pike and Bream to catch!

Burgh Castle roman fort on the Norfolk Broads
Burgh Castle ©Shutterstock / David Hughes

The Broads has lots of picturesque villages, many of which have a staithe so you can moor your boat and explore dry land for a while.

There are many historic buildings including old mills and water-pumps, ancient churches and museums, all with a fascinating story to uncover.

You can find more information on The Broads National Park Website, or continue reading about other National Parks using the links at the bottom of the page.

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