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29 October 2014

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You are in: Suffolk > Nature > Nature features > Bus pass time for Minsmere!


Bittern at Minsmere by Andy Hay

Bus pass time for Minsmere!

The RSPB is celebrating 60 years of the Minsmere nature reserve which is home to gulls, bitterns, marsh harriers, avocets and many more species.

Herbert Axell was the man who came to Suffolk to create Minsmere between Dunwich and Sizewell.  It was opened on 25th April 1947 and to celebrate its 60th birthday the RSPB is holding a weekend of free guided walks.  Mr Axell described the volunteers who helped him along the way as 'the finest in Britain.'

The origins of the reserve lie in the Second World War.  When there was a threat of Nazi invasion the east coast of Britain was heavily fortified.  The coast at Minsmere was lined with concrete anti-landing bollards and a decision was made to flood the low-lying marshland to make it impossible to stage a land invasion. 

The decision to turn it into a reserve was partly inspired by the return of the avocet which is also the symbol of the RSPB. In 1947, the site became the first place that breeding pairs had nested at for over a hundred years.  They also nested at the reserve's sister site of Havergate Island which is down the coast off Orford Ness.

Catching the bug

Ian Barthorpe, who's the reserve marketing manager, got the birdwatching bug when he was six years old. His parents brought him to Minsmere from their home in Shropshire and he knew he wanted to work here: "You could sit in the East Hide all day and watch a wide variety of birds.  You never tire of watching their antics or the thrill of seeing a new species, the sights, the sounds, spotting new colours - an avocets blue/grey legs for instance.

Minsmere wartime defences

Ian Barthorpe talks bollards

"Years ago birdwatching was seen as a bit quirky.  These days the RSPB has over a million members.  This is my dream job, although the downside is that it's not well paid, but you don't do it for the money, you do it for the enjoyment and reward."

Birthday facts and figures

Minsmere is now around 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) in size and it's home to an impressive number of rare birds including the marsh harrier, Britain's largest population of bitterns and the symbol of the RSPB - the avocet.  In 2006, there were 9 booming bitterns and 8 nesting females, 12 pairs of marsh harriers and over 200 avocets. 

Current success stories include rising numbers of dartford warblers, lapwings and stable populations of nightjars and woodlarks.

Bittern Hide, Minsmere

Bittern Hide

The reserve is a mixture of reedbed and swamp, lowland wet grassland, heathland, acid grassland and scrub, arable reversion, coastal lagoon, dunes, woodland and spring-sown arable land.

Don't leave until you've heard a Bittern booming in the reedbeds.  It's a wonderful,  haunting sound and in the spring it's most prevalent.

Mini beasts

But it's not all about birds.  At the last count, Minsmere was home to 1018 species of moth, 33 species of butterfly, and a recent survey revealed how important the famous birdwatching site is for invertebrates.  These are tiny creatures without a backbone, also referred to as bugs and mini-beasts.

Later in the year, October is the month of the red deer rut. There are also cattle grazing the fields for Minsmere's birthday along with a newborn Konik Polski (Polish pony).

An abundance of wild flowers grow on the site as well, with Gorse Bushes dominating the perimieter close to the coast, leaving the most pleasantly fresh coconut aroma.

Pictures in a book

Regular visitor Stephen Dean describes Minsmere as a place where species he could only find in books 'leapt off the page and came to life.'  To date around 330 species of bird have been recorded here.

Avocets, Minsmere


There aren't many places you can go to these days and see where man has had an impact on the environment that has been positive.  Minsmere really is an eighth wonder.

last updated: 21/04/2008 at 15:48
created: 27/04/2007

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