Plants & animals

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A coastal world of wildlife

We were fortunate to see the hares in this video clip grooming themselves in the rain.

Often claimed locally as a breed in their own right, the Ness's brown hares certainly tend to be bigger, fatter and healthier than their mainland cousins. 'That's not a hare, it's a horse!' is a not uncommon cry amongst our volunteers. Scattered across the site they are most easy to see on the shingle bank from the top of the Bomb Ballistics Building. Be patient and look across the vegetated ridges, waiting for a sudden lolloping movement to catch your eye. If you're lucky, you'll have seen an Orford hare.

Chinese water deer


Were they drawn by the memory of Chinese Labour Corps stationed on Orford Ness in the First World War? No, they just like our wet wild marshes! Escapees from ornamental deer parks, they've swum the river to a new home.

Surviving a hostile environment

Living on the coast is a challenge for any plant, but the desert-like conditions of the shingle habitat present additional challenges. Plants have to adapt to survive the wind, extremes of temperature and salt.

Coastal adaptations

Yellow horned poppy

 © Matthew Guilliatt

The yellow horned poppy is well adapted to avoid the desiccating effects of wind, sun and salt. Its fleshy leaves retain water and are crumpled to reduce the area exposed to direct sunlight and wind. Silver hairs on the leaves reflect the sunlight and slow down the wind.

Sea pea

Sea Pea flowering amongst the shingle close to the sea © Joe Cornish

The sea pea grows in the annual drift line communities, those plants that tend to seed each year after being thrown up by the sea at the top of the tide. Sea pea disappears in the winter but its extensive root system, used to gather scarce water, can remain if undisturbed. Its seeds are able to survive long periods in the sea.

Saltmarsh plants

Annual Sea Blight growing amongst Glassworts © Matthew Guilliatt

As their name implies, saltmarsh plants have to survive immersion in salt water. Thick skins (often using their leaves as an outer cover), fleshy stems and leaves to retain water, and complex chemistry for processing salt out of water all allow these plants to survive.

Marsh harrier

Marsh harrier in flight ©

Marsh harrier in flight

The characteristic bird of our grazing marshes, marsh harrier nest in the reed marsh in the King's Marsh and Airfield site. In the morning and again in late afternoon their slow powerful glide interrupted by occasional wing beats can be seen over the wet pasture.

Barn owl

A barn owl perches at the entrance to its nest in the Plate Store © Dave Crawshaw

A barn owl perches at the entrance to its nest in the Plate Store

Barn owl nest in a number of the old military buildings. As dusk falls their ghostly silent flight low over the grazing marsh perfectly matches the twilight mood. In the spring they are often visible hunting during daylight hours, looking for food to feed hungry young mouths.

Peregrine falcon

A peregrine falcon keeps watch © Dave Crawshaw

A peregrine falcon keeps watch

A winter visitor, you might spot them still around early in spring or late in the autumn. They roost on ledges on our buidlings, and on the transmitter aerials in the Cobra Mist site. Powerful and inspiring, the fastest living creature on earth is a thrilling sight.