LIFE projects on Orford Ness

Orford Ness is part of the Natura 2000 network of designated sites which are of national and European importance for their habitats and species. This has attracted funding from the European Union's LIFE Nature programme. Three major projects have been undertaken over the last twenty years. These included work to prepare the site for safe public access, create lagoons, manage water levels, improve grazing and enhance the habitats for wildlife.

More information about the designations

Under the EU Habitats directive, the Orfordness-Shingle Street Special Area of Conservation (SAC) has been designated for its vegetated shingle habitats and the Alde, Ore and Butley Estuaries SAC for their coastal lagoon, saltmarsh and mudflats.

Under the EU Wild Birds Directive the Alde-Ore Estuary Special Protection Area (SPA) has been designated for key bird species (Annex 1) and significant numbers and assemblages of other birds

LIFE 1 - The Conservation of Orford Ness

The first LIFE project started in 1994 and ran until 1997. It formed a key part of the pioneering five-year restoration programme to reconcile past military experimental use with the requirements of nature conservation. The objective was to achieve this while keeping the site in as natural and wild state as practicable.

The principal aim was to begin to restore this extensive but damaged coastal site and to conserve its outstanding physiographic interest, to encourage the breeding of a large number of wild birds and to increase the nature conservation value of its habitats.

Project work included the re-creation and restoration of habitats by using livestock grazing as a management tool; improving water control on the marshes and controlling damaging activities such as illegal access and shooting.

It also involved providing winter flooding of the grazing marshes for wildfowl and summer nesting and feeding areas for waders and other ground nesting birds.

Another key element was preparing the site for public access after being a closed 'secret site' for eighty years.

The results of the actions taken were assessed and fed back into the future management of Orford Ness with the aim of improving the overall management of the Special Protection Area (SPA), which the site has been designated.


The second EU funded LIFE project started in 1997 and ran until March 2000.

The aim of this project was to build on the work achieved in LIFE 1 and to improve the conservation status of EU Birds Directive Annex 1 species and other vulnerable breeding, overwintering and migratory species.

Grazing marsh was restored and new coastal lagoons created, along with other conservaton actions.

It also aimed to improve the status of habitats for which the site has been included as a candidate in the Special Area for Conservation (SAC) designation.

The work included studies into factors affecting the breeding success of Annex 1 birds, principally predation, and effects of gull guano on the development of the rare shingle flora.

Other work involved the restoration of further areas of grazing marsh, including some river walls; creating two hectares of new brackish water coastal lagoons with islands for breeding, feeding and overwintering waders and wildfowl and as increased habitat for the specialist lagoonal fauna found on the site; an experimental restoration of an area of degraded shingle; a continuing survey and monitoring programme and the development of public access and educational resources.


LIFE+ Alde-Ore Future for Wildlife

This is the third time that LIFE funding has been awarded to the Alde-Ore area, underlining its international importance for wildlife. In partnership with the RSPB we embarked on a major project to improve and protect habitats in the Alde-Ore Estuary. Running from 2010 to 2014, we improved water level management on the Orford Ness marshes and on Havergate Island.

The project has created new coastal lagoons and other habitats on Orford Ness, and is working with local communities to protect the rare and fragile coastal vegetated shingle habitat at the southern end of the spit.

A main aim of the project is to establish functional, efficient and sustainable systems of water management to maintain and improve the quality of the coastal lagoons and marshes in response to increasingly lower rainfall. A network of new ditches, lagoons and water controls have been installed, and we continue to monitor species, water quality and levels to ensure these sites are fantastic places for wildlife.

With the work now complete we are entering a period of experimentation and recording to find the best water levels and management regime.

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