Author: Jim Scott

RSPB Snettisham sits on the edge of The Wash: the UK’s most important inter-tidal wetland site nationally. At peak times, The Wash can hold between 400 – 450, 000 waders and wildfowl. Up to a third of these can occur on our reserve.

However, the site isn’t just of national importance. Internationally, The Wash is important for 16 species of birds: pink-footed goose, dark-bellied brent goose, shelduck, pintail, oystercatcher, ringed plover, golden plover, grey plover, lapwing, knotsanderling, dunlin, black-tailed godwit, bar-tailed godwitcurlew, and redshank.  Three of these species: pink-footed goose, knot, and bar-tailed godwit, occur at Snettisham in internationally important numbers; with a further six species: shelduck, oystercatcher, avocet, grey plover, sanderling, and black-tailed godwit, occurring in nationally important numbers.

Sanderling at Snettisham - Les Bunyan

We certainly don’t do things by halves! We are also home to two of the UK’s most incredible wildlife spectacles:

Whirling Wader Spectacular

The mudflats of The Wash provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for thousands of wading birds. Yet, when the water rolls in on a high tide, up to 50, 000 wading birds are displaced, leaving the mudflats and landing in the lagoons behind the shingle bank.

As the birds take-off in their masses, they turn and tumble, and whirl and ripple in one of nature’s most impressive sites.

This wild optical illusion can be seen from mid-July to late May, but the best period is from August to January.

Knot and oyster catcher over the wash - Les Bunyan

For the best experience, time your visit to coincide with a tide high enough to cover all the mudflats. We recommend visiting three different spots to get the most from your visit.:

  • To watch the huge whirling flocks leaving the mudflats, stand at the wader watchpoint on the beach, Depending on the height of the tide you'll need to be there 30-90 minutes before high tide.
  • During the high tide, the massive flocks often land on the shingle banks and islands within pit 4. They may stay there for an hour or more after high tide.
  • Even though the birds can't see the sea, they seem to know when the tide's going back out and leave in long, smoky lines. This can start as early as 30 minutes after high tide and can last for up to an hour.

To access a high-tide timetable visit

Oyster catch among the knot - Les Bunyan


Pink-footed geese

Early September, pink-footed geese start to arrive from their breeding grounds in Iceland and eastern Greenland. Patiently, they wait for the first sugar beet harvests of the year, looking to refresh and feed after miles of migration.

Numbers peak between mid November to mid-to late January. At dawn, cackling orchestrated calls fill the sky. Look overhead and you might see tens of thousands of geese flying in V-shaped formations, making their way from The Wash to the sugar beet fields. At dusk, they return to the mudflats for the night.

Pink-footed geese Les Bunyan

To see the goose spectacular, it’s best to get to RSPB Snettisham by dawn. It's early, but it's worth leaving your duvet for! Avoid up to five days either side of full moon as the spectacular is not as reliable in this period.

For the best views, of the geese, stand on the beach between the wader watchpoint and Rotary Hides. The first groups to leave each morning may give an indication as to the best places to stand later during the spectacular.

We are currently crowdfunding to raise money to rebuild the hides at Snettisham lost in the 2013 storm surge. To donate to our #SnettsHide appeal please visit where there are many exclusive rewards on offer.