Wildlife on the Suffolk coast

Little egret

The Suffolk coastline is home to a rich and diverse range of wildlife – from plants and trees to butterflies and birds. 

Dr Stuart Warrington, National Trust Wildlife Advisor for the East of England, takes a look at some of the wildlife to look out for along this beautiful coast...

Heathland

The heathlands of this area, with their purple heather and golden gorse flowers, and scattered stands of pale silver birch trees and dark green bracken, provide both a distinctive wildlife habitat and palette of colours. 

Heathlands are rare, both in Britain and across Europe, and Suffolk has a huge contribution to make to the conservation of this habitat and its special species. 

Top of this list is probably the Dartford warbler, a scarce bird but one that is doing pretty well in Suffolk’s heaths. Look for it around gorse bushes set amongst heather, with the male often singing from a perch at the top of the bush. 

Dartford warblers are the only warbler to overwinter in the UK. Look for them finding shelter in among the gorse and larger heather
A Dartford warbler
Dartford warblers are the only warbler to overwinter in the UK. Look for them finding shelter in among the gorse and larger heather

Just as rare and special are nightjar and woodlark, these birds are pretty hard to spot but are perhaps easier to hear. 

The ‘churring’ song of the male nightjar in the evening in early summer on a heathland or in a woodland clearing is a spine-tingling and unforgettable ‘must hear’ on the best Suffolk heaths. 

The heaths are also the home of some special diminutive wildlife which appreciate the warmth and dry sandy soils, such as dozens of species of scarce mining bees, digger wasps and the amazing ant-lion, which digs pits to trap its prey of ants.

Freshwater marshes and reedbeds

The low-lying freshwater marshes and reedbeds, behind shingle banks or estuary walls, are another key wildlife habitat of the area. 

Marsh Harrier over Orford Ness
Marsh Harrier over Orford Ness
Marsh Harrier over Orford Ness

Suffolk’s coastal reedbeds are the breeding stronghold of the endangered bittern in Britain. 
This bird has been recovering steadily year on year from its low point in the 1990s and the booming of the males is now heard at many more places across the country, but Suffolk is still vital for its long-term conservation. 

Also, these reedbeds are the home of the marvellous marsh harrier, and this bird of prey is much more visible thanks to its dramatic soaring glides across the marshes. 

" When I visit the Suffolk coast, I always look out for a marsh harrier and I am rarely disappointed. This beautiful area is a stronghold for this wonderful bird and we are lucky to see it so often, as it is a species that is rarer than golden eagles in Britain."
- Dr Stuart Warrington, National Trust Wildlife Advisor

Estuaries

Suffolk’s estuaries with extensive wildlife-rich intertidal areas of mudflat and saltmarsh are important for birds all year round. 

In winter, there are huge flocks of waders and wildfowl that come here to feed. Avocets are probably the most distinctive, but in recent years there are increasing numbers of spoonbills and little egrets, adding their white plumage to the feeding flocks.

Avocets flying across the lagoons at Orford Ness
Avocets on Orford Ness
Avocets flying across the lagoons at Orford Ness

So, it really doesn't matter what time of the year you visit, there are so many reasons to come to see the wildlife of the Suffolk coasts and heaths. In looking after these special places and adding to the landscapes cared for by conservation organisations, we’re able to do even more to create special habitats and encourage these amazing birds, plants and insects to thrive. 
 

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