An ancient landscape waiting to be explored
Ecology graduate, Jonathan Plews, has been a Ranger at Sutton Hoo since 2018. Lucky enough to live on site, he has an intimate knowledge of our wonderful wildlife, and loves nothing more than sharing it with others.
How did you find yourself at Sutton Hoo?
I studied ecology at university and soon knew that I wanted to work within nature conservation. As part of my degree I worked with the National Trust in Ireland on a long term placement - I think I was always destined to do this kind of thing.
Sutton Hoo really appealed to me, because as well as being a significant place for archaeology and history, it’s also a really important place for wildlife.
What does your work as Ranger involve?
My main focus is managing the landscape and its wildlife, but I also like to find ways to introduce our visitors to the plants and creatures that call Sutton Hoo home. As well as offering regular ‘Rambles with the Ranger’ and developing nature trails, I can sometimes be found carving wooden paw prints and building up a wide-ranging collection of wild poo!
How have you been preparing for the site’s re-opening?
In addition to day-to-day site management, we’ve been preparing the ground for our new River View walk. As well as checking the paths for safety, we’ve removed lots of rhododendrons from the woodland area to create a peaceful clearing along the route. This will be home to a new picnic area offering stunning views down to Woodbridge and the River Deben.
We’ve also built benches from timber felled on site to place along the walk. This will give visitors an opportunity to stop and take in the wildlife and amazing atmosphere as they travel the in the same spaces once occupied by the Anglo-Saxons here.
Which of the site’s new features are you most excited about sharing with visitors?
It’s definitely the River View walk. It’s going to open up an area of the site that hasn’t been available to visitors before, packed full of amazing views and opportunities to spot wildlife.
On the walk, at the right time of year, there’s a good chance of seeing buzzards hunting overhead, or you might hear nightingale song - commonly described as one of the most beautiful sounds in nature. Visitors should also keep their ears open for green woodpeckers yaffling, great spotted woodpeckers drumming and they might even catch a glimpse of a fallow deer.
What most captivates you about the Sutton Hoo story?
For me, it’s all about the landscape, which underpins the whole Sutton Hoo story. Without the three ‘hoos’, or hills, and miles of wild, flat heathland, the Anglo-Saxon burial may never have taken place here. It’s thanks to the elevation of this site, visible for miles, that it was chosen as the high profile resting place for an important ruler.
Since then, due to changes in land use, much of this wildlife rich grassland and heathland has disappeared right across Europe. This makes our patch at Sutton Hoo extremely important, but now we’re focusing on supporting wildlife, not burying kings!
Could you share a personal highlight during your time at Sutton Hoo?
I live on site, so after everyone has left, I am lucky enough to have the site to myself. I’ve had some really memorable encounters with wildlife as dusk falls, such as coming face to face with a fallow stag and having the chance to see barn owls and little owls hunting.
It’s also been a place for a couple of firsts - I still remember the day that I spotted my first brown hare and, perhaps even more memorably, the occasion I heard my first nightingale sing.