East Suffolk Nature Reserves Part 2: 15.07.21-17.07.21: Hazelwood Marsh, Snape, Dunwich, Warberswick
Updated: Aug 18, 2021
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Wednesday 14.07.21 Aldeburgh to Saxmundham via Hazelwood Marsh Nature Reserve (Suffolk Wildlife Trust) and Snape Warren Nature Reserve (RSPB)
A Song Thrush at a Saxmundham bus stop, where I caught the 64 bus to Aldeburgh.
Before undertaking the walk back to Saxmundham, I walked along the Aldeburgh Seafront
and along to the tiny fishing and sailing settlement of Slaughden where the Alde turns sharply south west. It is not possible to enter the Orford Ness Nature Reserve from Slaughden, as Orford Ness is a sensitive site. It is only possible to visit Orford Ness (National Trust) via a time boat from Orford (see Orford Ness National Nature Reserve | National Trust)
The masts, just about visible in the distance, are part of the transmission station. The Orfordness transmitting station was a major radio broadcasting facility at Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast in the United Kingdom. It closed in May 2012 after more than 30 years of service. In 2017 Radio Caroline started broadcasting on 648 kHz.
The station was designed to transmit powerful medium wave (AM) signals to much of Europe on two frequencies, 648 and 1296 kHz. Built by the British government, the facility passed through various owners after privatisation in 1997. From 2010, it was owned by a large engineering and defence services company, the Babcock International Group. The current owner of the site is a telecommunications company called Cobra Mist Limited, set up in 2015.
Over the years, the Orfordness station carried a variety of radio services. It was best known, particularly in the UK, for transmitting the BBC World Service in English around the clock on 648 kHz from September 1982 until March 2011. Orfordness transmitting station - Wikipedia
In 1968 work started on the top secret Anglo-American System 441A 'over-the-horizon' (OTH) backscatter radar project, finally code-named 'Cobra Mist'. The Anglo-American project, whose main contractor was the Radio Corporation of America, was set up to carry out several 'missions', including detection and tracking of aircraft, detection of missile and satellite vehicle launchings, fulfilling intelligence requirements and providing a research and development test-bed. A multi-million pound project, it was plagued by a severe 'noise' problem of an undetermined origin which resulted in a major reduction in detection capability. An investigation into this problem by a joint US/UK Scientific Assessment Committee (SAC) led to a report and recommendations in early 1973 from which came a joint US/UK decision to terminate operations at Orford Ness, based on economic and 'other considerations'. An integral part of the project, beyond the building stood 18 'strings' of antennae in the shape of a large open fan, until they were removed in the mid 1970s. This fan was accompanied by a large aluminium 'ground net' covering some 80 acres of Lantern Marsh to the north of the site. 'Cobra Mist' is also well known for its alleged associations with UFOs. The large grey steel building currently houses radio transmitters that until recently broadcast the BBC World Service. After 1945 - rockets and long range radar | National Trust
Boats at Slaughden Yacht Club
Slaughden Martello Tower
Built 1810-1812 by Royal Engineers as defence against Napoleonic invasion. Designed by Col. Twiss and Capt. Ford. Slaughden tower is larger than the rest of the chain.. Martello Tower of unusual quatrefoil design, comprising four concentric brick bastions surrounded by a dry moat. The building has now been restored and is now rented as holiday accommodation by the Landmark Trust. ADB 013 - Martello Tower CC (No. 1), Slaughden - Suffolk Heritage Explorer
The beach of Aldeburgh
House Sparrows in the eaves of a house on Aldeburgh's seafront
It is not possible to walk along the north bank of the Alde to get to Hazelwood Marsh. It is necessary to walk on the pavement of the Saxmundham Road (A1094) until Aldborough Golf Club is reached, where the Sailors Path start - joining Aldborough to Snape.
A plague on the wall of Saxmundham Primary School on the way to the Saxmundham Road
A map of the Sailors' Path, which curiously misses of Hazelwood Marshes (I have added its location with MH in green)
Sailor's Path to Hazelwood Marshes
Shortly after the Sailor's Path leaves the side of the Saxmundham Road is the entrance to Hazelwood Marsh
Hazelwood Marsh (Suffolk Wildlife Trust) Extending out from the northern shore of the Alde estuary, the marshes are splendidly quiet and isolated. It is easy to use the word breath-taking but there is also a sense of otherness, of power and of uplifting melancholy. The river wall that once separated the marsh from the estuary, once also acted as a physical barrier between the saline inter-tidal world and the fresh water habitats of Hazlewood Marshes.
But on December 5, 2013, the sea came in, a huge tidal surge blowing effortlessly through the earth wall leaving much of the reserve underwater. Wildlife writer Simon Barnes, who reopened Hazlewood Marshes in May 2016, wrote in The Sunday Times that the incident was as “dramatic as a bomb going off”.
Undoubtedly the reserve is significantly now a very different place. Whole communities of plants and invertebrates disappeared almost overnight and the birds that depended on them – water rail, bittern – are gone too. Yet the explosive power of nature gives as well as takes. Majestic spoonbill can now be seen on the reserve during winter along with huge flocks of black-tailed godwits and dunlin. Redshank, lapwing and avocet all nest here and the briny waters ring with many species of duck calls.
Walking from the car park along the Sailors’ Path, so-called as seamen would once have travelled this route between Aldeburgh and Snape, it takes about 10 minutes to reach the reserve. And from the new raised causeway that snakes through Hazelwood towards the hide it is possible to see plenty of other evidence of the reserve’s slow transition towards saltmarsh. Among ghostly salt-blasted trees, marsh samphire grows on patches of oozy mud and it is hoped other species such as sea lavender and sea aster will soon develop. At the water’s edge a wrack-line of seaweed and crab shells are further evidence of a healthy but changing ecosystem. Perhaps one of the most exciting things about this reserve is its capacity to surprise.
Hazlewood is one of the largest unmanaged inter-tidal habitat creation projects in the UK and its fascinating transformation from fresh water grazing to salt marsh is one of Suffolk’s best kept secrets. In recent years, a series of archeological digs, led by the Aldeburgh and District Local History Society, have been carried out on a part of Hazlewood Marshes called Barber's Point. It was discovered that this site was extremely important for early Christian settlers. Hazlewood Marshes Nature Reserve | Suffolk Wildlife Trust
A Skylark in songflight in the sky to the north of the oath to the Hazlewood Marshes hide
Another Little Egret
Black-tailed Godwits in flight
A Curlew and a Black-headed Gull
Shelducks in flight; over the breaches in the Alde levees that were created by the storm and high tides of 2014
Vegetation dying because of the increased salinity following the breach
An Oystercatcher in flight
Little Egrets ? at the back of the bay to the north of the marshes seen from the hide; it is possible, that one/some of these are Spoonbill which nest on Havergate Island (RSPB) off Orford nest, and frequently forage at Hazelwood Marshes; they nested for the first time there in 2020, see: Rare birds raise chicks in Suffolk for first time in over 300 years (rspb.org.uk)
Remnants of former fencing, before the breach
A Redshank and Shelducks
Fling Black-tailed Godwits
Black-headed Gull and same Curlew
Black-tailed Godwits in flight
Walking back to the Sailors Path
On the Sailor's Path to Snape Warren and Snape
A Red Admiral Butterfly and a Spotted Longhorn beetle
At Snape Warren we've been clearing birch, pine and gorse scrub to recreate rare Suffolk Sandlings heathland, with the help of sheep and Exmoor ponies. The heathland is a blaze of purple in summer and is home to rare wildlife such as Dartford warblers, woodlarks and adders. The Snape reserve also includes an exciting new wetland area where we are working with the Environment Agency to create new reedbeds and freshwater marshes. This will benefit wildlife such as otters, water voles, kingfishers, bitterns, marsh harriers and dragonflies. Snape Nature Reserve, Suffolk - The RSPB
Cinnabar Moth caterpillar on Ragwort
Heather and Honeysuckle
An arrangement of logs
Toward Snape Maltings; Iken church on the other sde of the Alde
Iken Church, south of the Alde
Not that the Snape village Coat of Arms seems to includes Black-tailed Godwits in Flight
When the Sailors Path ended I followed footpaths and country lanes on the OS Explorer Map 212 (Woodham & Saxmundham); there is a footpath route given on the Suffolk on Board - Train / East Suffolk Line Walks map untitled (suffolkonboard.com)
Benhall - on the way between Snape and Saxmundham
This 17th century house in Benhall, recently repainted, seems to have preserved its 17th century painting of a Raven
Thursday 15.07.21 A return trip to RSPB Minsmere with a walking extension to Dunwich Heath Nature Reserve (the National Trust)
I saw many of the same species of birds as Tuesday; the only photos I am going to publish here are of things I did not see on Tuesday - Bittern and Little Ringed Plovers; and some interesting behaviours not seen on Tuesday, e.g. Common Terns feeding their chicks
A variety of finches I saw while drinking my coffee in the visitors centre cafe - an adult Bulfinch a fledgling Bullfinch and fledgling Greenfinch
A Bittern - seen from the Discovery Hide. There was an RSPB Bittern Survey going on in the Bittern and Discovery Hides; so I was tipped off that two Bittern were flying to the Discovery Hide when I heard volunteers talking on walkie-talkies; and the volunteer in the Discovery Hide kindly pointed two Bittern out to me in flight.
From an online article on Bitterns: Once common in wetlands, bitterns became extinct as breeding birds in the UK in the late 19th century, as a result of wetland drainage and hunting. These birds were next recorded as breeding in Norfolk in 1911. They slowly recolonised from there and by 1954 there were around 80 booming males.
However, numbers dropped again as their reedbed habitats became drier through lack of management. By 1997 only 11 booming bitterns were recorded in the UK and there was a similar pattern of decline in bitterns across western Europe.
Back from the brink
Alarmed by the plunging bittern numbers, the RSPB started a research programme to investigate the needs of this previously little-studied bird. This led to some clear management recommendations that have been, and still are being, implemented at many sites in the UK.
Bitterns are difficult to study as they are found at low densities in habitats which are difficult to work in. The research looked at the habitat that bitterns prefer, their feeding requirements, the home range of male bitterns, as well as female nesting requirements, chick diet and their dispersal.
To find this information, lightweight radio-transmitters were attached to bitterns at two RSPB reserves so that their movements could be tracked. Later, young birds at the nest were also radio-tagged and their food preferences studied. Bittern Conservation & Sustainability - The RSPB
Some closer-up Black-tailed Godwits
A Little Ringed Plover
Common Terns feeding their chicks
An Avocet seeing off a Mallard
Dunwich Heath Nature Reserve (The National Trust)
Dunwich Heath is just to the north of Minsmere
Southwold Lighthouse from Dunch Heath
Recent sightings board; on my walk (Docwra's Ditch), I heard (but did not see) Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers and saw a Red-banded Solitary Wasp
This was the closest I got to seeing a Dartford Warbler and a Woodlark on my walk along the Docwra Ditch Docwra’s ditch, the belt of wetland running along our southern boundary. This area supports all manner of amphibians, insects, waterfowl, water mammals such as Otters and Water Voles, and reed birds. Dunwich Heath, a patchwork of diverse and rare habitats... | National Trust A stunningly beautiful walk, even in the overcast weather.
A Red-Banded Sand Wasp (a solitary mining wasp)
Normally, a female digs a short burrow, ending in a horizontal cell, in bare or sparsely vegetated sand. Later, she temporarily closes the nest entrance using sand and tiny stones, then hunts for lepidopteran caterpillars in vegetation. About half of all cells are provisioned with just one large caterpillar, which is carried back on foot as it is sometimes more than ten times as heavy as the wasp. Other cells are provisioned with two to five smaller caterpillars (see Olberg, 1959). An egg is laid on the first caterpillar provisioned and rarely hatches before permanent closure of the nest burrow. After the last caterpillar has been interred the wasp permanently closes the burrow with a much deeper plug of sand, and camouflages the entrance with debris so that it is invisible to the human eye. All nests are unicellular. The whole nesting cycle, from searching for a digging site to closing the nest permanently after provisioning, takes an average of eight to ten hours of activity. Marked females each dug and provisioned up to ten nests during a summer.