Celebrating 50 years of caring for Dunwich Heath!

Old photograph of campers at Dunwich Heath, Suffolk

We celebrated a special anniversary at Dunwich Heath in 2018, a year which marked 50 years since this beautiful site came into the care of the National Trust.

Nestled on the Suffolk coast, Dunwich Heath is a surviving fragment of precious lowland heath – one of the UK’s rarest habitats. Its sweeping slopes of heather and gorse, sandy soil and acid grassland support many insects, birds and animals which depend on this specialised heathland habitat. But 50 years ago, Dunwich Heath’s future seemed uncertain.

During the Second World War, Dunwich Heath was requisitioned by the military as a training area. After the war it was handed back to its owners, the Dunwich Town Trust, and became an increasingly popular destination for tourists. By 1968, there were concerns that unregulated camping was damaging the fragile landscape. In addition, the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, meant that if the Dunwich Town Trust wanted to continue allowing camping at the site, they would need to provide facilities, toilets and water points for visitors. Unwilling to develop Dunwich Heath as a campsite, they decided that the National Trust would be the best organisation to secure the future of this special landscape.

The site became the first property in Suffolk to be purchased through the National Trust Enterprise Neptune Campaign. This important acquisition of around 250 acres and a mile of shingle beach was made possible by a substantial bequest from H.J Heinz Co. Ltd. Their donation was worth £12,000 in 1968, that’s the equivalent of approximately £207,533 today! On 27th March 1968, a ceremony took place on the heath formally transferring the site into the care of The National Trust ensuring its preservation for future generations. The Duke of Grafton, Chairman of the East Anglia Regional Committee of The National Trust, unveiled a new National Trust sign with Mr Anthony Beresford, Managing Director of H. J. Heinz Ltd, and Mr Jack Docwra, the first warden of the new nature reserve. The Trust set about restoring areas of traditional heathland and maintaining the characteristic open landscape – ongoing conservation work which continues to the present day.

Regenerating Dunwich’s heathland

Dunwich Heath was once part of a large area of lowland heath, known as the Sandlings. This rare habitat has declined nationally at a rate of 92% in the last 120 years threatening heathland wildlife and plant species. In the early 1970’s, Dunwich Heath became part of Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

Dunwich Heath was further extended when 79 acres from Mount Pleasant Farm, north of the main site, was purchased with a donation from Pizza Express in 2002! Their seafood ‘Neptune’ pizza was sold to raise money for the Enterprise Neptune Campaign. The former arable land is being restored to acid grassland and heather heath replacing lost habitat and providing new areas for rare breeding birds such as stone curlew and woodlark. In 2015, a community grant awarded by the WREN Land Acquisition Fund and a further grant from the Enterprise Neptune Campaign enabled The National Trust to purchase a privately owned area of heathland which sat between the main heath and Mount Pleasant Farm. 

The continued conservation work by staff and volunteers at Dunwich Heath has been richly rewarded with the success of some key species. After an absence of nearly 60 years, Dunwich Heath became the first site in East Anglia to record breeding Dartford warblers. Around 35 pairs of these elusive little birds are now resident at Dunwich Heath all year round. Another major success has been the first successful breeding of stone curlews in 2017. Following failed attempts to breed in previous years, we were delighted to watch their first chick grow and successfully fledge. Dunwich Heath supports many other heathland species; birds such as woodlark and nightjar, and rare insects including antlion, silver-studded blue butterfly and green tiger beetle make their homes here. 

With its gentle slopes of heather reaching to the sea, Dunwich Heath has an enduring charm. In the care of the National Trust, it will continue to provide both an important space for wildlife to thrive and a special place for everybody to enjoy for years to come.

" It is hoped that for centuries to come people will be able to go to Dunwich Common to enjoy the sounds of the sea and the birds, and the wind sweeping across the gorse."
- Mr Anthony Beresford, Managing Director of H. J. Heinz Ltd
Old photograph of visitor at Dunwich Heath, Suffolk

Memories of Dunwich Heath

Can you help us reveal the heritage of Dunwich Heath? As part of our 50th anniversary celebrations in 2018, we launched a history project to explore Dunwich Heath’s rich and intriguing past.