A selection of the finest Wildlife Trust places to see grey herons gathered together to breed and raise young
The striking appearance of the grey heron, with its enormous body, long neck and spindly legs, makes it an interesting species to observe. Famous for its long plumes flowing from its head, the bird is often spotted standing motionless at the water’s edge, waiting patiently for the right moment to stab passing prey with its dagger-like bill.
A visit to a heronry – a place where herons gather together over many generations for nesting and raising young – is a great opportunity to encounter these usually solitary birds in large numbers and witness their fascinating behaviour. Look for their distinctive flight posture – heads drawn back and feet trailing behind, their wings making a curved m-shape.
Arriving in February, herons often lay their eggs in the same nests each year, hatching between March and April. For your best chance to spot a nestling, visit our reserves in April when nests are usually still visible before the opening of tree leaves cover them up.
Cleeve Heronry Nature Reserve (Avon Wildlife Trust)
Home to one of the largest heronries in the southwest. More than 40 nests rest on the tops of oak and ash trees. Although access is permit only, a nearby lay-by offers the perfect opportunity to watch adult herons fly back and forth to their Somerset fishing grounds to gather food for their young.
Cleeve garden centre is next to the reserve, which has a tea shop with a camera feed to a nest-height webcam.
Besthorpe Nature Reserve (Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust)
Besthrope Nature Reserve is comprised of three distinct habitat types: open water with islands, reedbeds and shingle –the perfect combination to support one of the largest heronries in Nottinghamshire.
For many years, young herons have been counted and ringed at Besthorpe and it was due to such efforts that a decline in the region’s heron chicks was noted.
Dedicated work by the North Nottinghamshire Ringing Group and support by the Environment Agency identified that local pollution was causing the chicks' bones to become brittle, endangering their chances of survival. Pollution in the region has now been eliminated, while monitoring of the heron chicks is still ongoing.
Plenty of hides are located around the southern area where herons can be spotted visiting the pool for fish.
Coed Llwyn Rhyddid (The Wildlife Trust for South & West Wales)
Coed Llwyn Rhyddid is a mixed woodland made up of oak, ash, beech and a mixture of conifers. Holding the third largest heronry in Wales, the reserve’s warden frequently runs heron watching trips. The herons can be seen arriving to their nests as early as January, with good views from the roadside parking near the farm entrance track. Visit in July to watch the chicks fledge, while adult herons will often stay until late August. Viewings of the heronry can be made on request (01656 724100) firstname.lastname@example.org
Viewings take place from neighbouring land so we need to arrange permissions before hand.
Ellesmere (Shropshire Wildlife Trust)
One of the easiest heronries to get to and view in the UK can be found in Ellesmere, Shropshire, where nesting herons return each year to Moscow Island. Using the artificial island built in the early 19th Century to raise their young, the heronry is growing in numbers.
Pop into the Ellesmere Shropshire Wildlife Trust visitor centre to watch the live camera feed. Herons gathering and delivering nesting material can be seen in February, while come May, watch the herons lay their first eggs.
Ballynahone Bog (Ulster Wildlife Trust)
Located south of Maghera, this is the largest of Ulster Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves and has an incredible range of bog flora, including nationally rare sphagnum mosses, liverworts and bog rosemary. The reserve’s heronry can be found in the bog’s surrounding birch woodland. The biggest known colony of the large heath butterfly in Northern Ireland is also found here.
Stocker's Lake (Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust)
Stocker's Lake is one of the oldest gravel pits in the Colne Valley and is home to the county’s largest heronry. Over 60 species of breeding birds have been recorded with the shoveler and golden eye being common visitors.
Titchmarsh (The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire)
The enchanting Titchmarsh wetland is often visited to catch a glimpse of the heronry located in the reserve's pines. Come along in February to hear the noisy breeding calls of the herons and visit the reserve's grasslands to hear the chattering of breeding ground nesters including snipe, reed warbler and sedge warbler.
Trentabank Reservoir (Cheshire Wildlife Trust)
The heronry at Trentabank Reservoir is one of the largest in the Peak District and sits within the picturesque Macclesfield Forest. More than 20 pairs of the birds nest amongst the larches toward the eastern end of the reservoir, which in winter is also regularly home to goldeneye and goosander. The surrounding forest also plays host to a secretive herd of red deer, while crossbills feed in the pine tops and peregrines, buzzards and even the occasional red kite patrol the skies above. The heronry is best viewed from the layby east of the ranger station and car park, while views of the reservoir can be enjoyed from the small circular path of the main Trust reserve. In some years, video footage from the heronry is also beamed to the ranger station when open to visitors.
Attenborough Nature Reserve (Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust)
The 145 hectare Attenborough Nature Reserve’s flooded gravel pits and islands provide the ideal habitat to support the region’s largest heronry. Known as the Attenborough heronry, the first nest was recorded in 2007, which over the years, has increased to an impressive 40 nests. Around 30 of these can be easily spotted around Tween Pond.
The Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has been responsible for monitoring heron numbers through the Heronries Census at the Attenborough reserve – a valuable indicator of the quality of the wetland habitat. The reserve is also an important site for winter wildfowl and often holds a high proportion of the county’s shoveler and diving ducks including mallard and teal.
Dunsdon (Devon Wildlife Trust)
Dunsdon Nature Reserve is arguably the most important Culm grassland left in England. A habitat in sharp decline, the marshy, heath-like grassland supports diverse wildlife including an active heronry. Situated in the trees near the old Bude Canal, herons can be observed fishing. Barn owls also frequently use the site as a feeding ground and may be seen roosting in the trees.
This image was taken at the heronry in Verulamium Park, near Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust's office in St Albans (cpt Clare Gray).