Birdwatching in the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB
As we launch our Greentraveller's Guide to Suffolk Coast and Heaths, Juliette Dkye enjoys a spot of birdwatching at RSPB Minsmere.
This is not my average Monday morning. I’m sitting in a darkened bird hide, surrounded by grown men dressed in full camouflage, brandishing paparazzi length camera lenses, and I’m peering through some borrowed binoculars at a clump of brown reeds. Allegedly, there’s a highly secretive, expertly concealed bird nesting in there that may or may not, during the course of today, deign to appear to us for a couple seconds when it goes looking for some lunch. Sound like much fun? Well actually, it is.
I’m at RSPB Minsmere on the Suffolk coast, the organisation’s flagship nature reserve which has been protecting some our rarest bird species since 1947. In fact, it was here that avocets were seen breeding on British shores for the first time in 100 years and they are now the emblem of the RSPB.
Whilst we sit in wait for this elusive bittern, my fellow birdwatchers and I are having a whale of a time. There’s a surprisingly sociable atmosphere, as they share twiching tips and flasks of tea, point excitedly as a marsh harrier or a hobby appears on the horizon, and chat about the previous day’s otter sightings. It’s not surprising that the hide is so busy, as this part of the Suffolk coast is a bit of a birdwatching mecca. The RSPB has identified over 400 bird species in the Suffolk area, and it is packed with wildlife hot spots including many Sites of Specific Scientific Interest and three National Nature Reserves including Dingle Marshes, Walberswick and Hen Reedbed.
Minsmere itself is a great place to start, having recently re-opened following a £2m makeover with a new visitor centre and café, plus a Discovery Centre and Wild Zone Activity Area for children. Some of the trails and hides have also been adapted for wheelchairs and pushchairs, so that everyone can have access to the fantastic variety of wildlife that passes through here.
To make the most of your visit, come equipped with a set of binoculars or hire them from reception as it will make a big difference to what you can see and enjoy. And be prepared for the fact that it can become a highly addictive pastime. I am now a bonafide bird watcher and am not going to fight it anymore, but embrace it. Though I do draw the line at wearing a full-body camouflage suit.
Where to stay
The family run Blyth Hotel is a beautiful Edwardian building just five minutes walk from the centre of Southwold. There are 13 rooms, ranging from a singles to spacious suites which come with luxurious touches such as the double-ended jacuzzi spa bath, leather sofa and iPod dock in the Southwold Suite. All the rooms have been styled with Laura Ashley furnishings but still retain their individual character.
The Managers, Richard and Charlie Ashwell, care passionately about encouraging sustainable tourism in Suffolk and are members of the Green Tourism Business Scheme, which gave them a Bronze Award for their efforts to reduce the hotel’s carbon footprint.
Relax with a drink in the light and airy bar before heading to the main restaurant or outdoor terrace for dinner, where I enjoyed a wonderful, smoked local mackerel and potato salad, accompanied by buttery seasonal vegetables and warm homemade bread.
Southwold itself is close by, and if you fancy a change of scene then try the warm and welcoming Lord Nelson Pub for a wide choice of local Adnams beers and order a helping of their unmissable fish and chips.
By Juliette Dyke