Things to see at Dunwich Heath
Dunwich Heath, along with its nearby beach and woodland, is ideal for people who want to stretch their legs while enjoying the best that nature has to offer. The area has a remarkably diverse range of wildlife, and is famous for the nationally rare Dartford warbler. Nature lovers will be spoiled for choice here; just make sure to bring your binoculars and a camera!
Where to walk at Dunwich Heath
The pink walk covers most of the heathland and offers plenty of chances to see the variety of heathland birds, such as the stonechat, the skylark and the Dartford warbler.
Head down to the beach and spend some time sitting on the shingle, or walk along the clifftop path for the best chance of spotting seabirds.
Follow the grey walk if you're a reedbird and wader enthusiast. The more southerly section along Docwra’s Ditch is perfect, and there are benches dotted along its length to stop and search with your binoculars.
If you want to see woodland birds, either the orange or the pink walk is your best bet, as both travel past or through good patches of trees.
Birdwatching at Dunwich Heath
Dunwich Heath is famous for its bird life. There are a number of resident species, while others migrate here for the summer or winter. Of those that live here permanently, there are a number of very rare species that it's illegal to disturb. The most famous is the Dartford warbler, alongside the now red-listed skylark.
When summer finally wanes, and autumn is starting to creep in, the summer migrants head for warmer climes. However, they are replaced by our Schedule 1 winter migrants, who come for our ‘warmer’ winter weather, at least compared to their usual homes in the much colder parts of the world!
- Merlins are the UK’s smallest bird of prey, with shorter wings than Falcons, flying with rapid wingbeats and occasional glides.
- They migrate from Iceland in August to October, then return home in April to May, most often found roosting at the coast in reedbeds, bogs and on heaths, often alongside Hen Harriers.
- Merlin populations are recovering from a crash in the late twentieth century and are still on the conservation Red list and have Schedule One status.
- Hen Harrier males are a pale grey colour, while females and juveniles are brown with a white rump and long, barred tail. They fly with their wings held in a shallow V, gliding in search of food.
- They are the most intensively persecuted bird of prey owing to their previous predations on free-range fowl, hence the name, threatening the Hen Harrier’s survival in some parts of the UK.
- Hen Harriers live in open areas with low vegetation normally, then from October to March move to lowland farmland, heathland, coastal marshes, fenland and river valleys.
- Bramblings are similar in size and shape to a Chaffinch, and are sometimes found in flocks of them, or forming their own flocks of thousands.
- Their numbers vary between winters depending on their food supply, but their usual winter period in the UK is from mid-September to March and April.
- Bramblings are found in woodland and on farmland fields near woods, searching for seeds to feed on.
- Crossbills are chunky Finches, with large heads and a distinctive bill crossed over at the ends, which they use to extract seeds from conifer cones.
- They arrive in the UK in August and September, staying until March or April, and are most often encountered in noisy family groups or larger flocks, flying close to treetop height.
- Crossbills are an irruptive species, and may be widespread and numerous in some years, less so in others.
- Fieldfares are large, colourful thrushes, standing very upright and moving in purposeful hops.
- They arrive in October and stay until April, and are best seen in countryside, along hedges and in fields, hawthorn hedges with berries especially. In late winter they can be seen on grass fields, playing fields and arable fields with nearby trees.
- They are very social, often seen in flocks of anything from a dozen to several hundred, sometimes with Redwings mingling amongst them.
- Redwings are the UK’s smallest true thrush, the vast majority arriving in the UK from September and October and staying until March and April, though there is a tiny resident population.
- They roam across the countryside, feeding in fields and hedgerows, rarely visiting gardens except in the coldest weather when snow covers the fields.
- They are under Red conservation status, with only 13 UK breeding pairs, though as mentioned many more migrate here over the winter and can often be seen amongst flocks of Fieldfares.
Winter time is the best for spotting deer, and if you're looking for where, head up the diagonal orange path through the heath, turn left and then follow the pink walk back to the car park.
Keep your eyes peeled as the deer are surprisingly hard to spot. As for when to spot them, the hinds occasionally appear with their calves in the summer, but for glimpses of the magnificent stags the colder months are best, especially the autumn when the ‘rut’ happens. This is the ritual where males proclaim their territory and fight for females.
Visiting with the family
If you're visiting with the family there are a whole host of things you can do with your little ones:
- Trails - We have three trails running, the Dunwich Discovery trail, Smugglers trail and Tree Trek! You can pick up a trail map from the Visitor Welcome hut, when open, and when you've completed your trail collect your prize from the same place. Alternatively, download the trails below and print them at home or keep them on your phone, but you'll still have to check your answers in the hut!
- Den building - Head to our den building area and have a go at creating your own shelter or fortress! Can you make it comfortable and watertight?
- Geo-caching - Get stuck into a treasure hunt! There are 13 geo-caches hidden around the heath, so if you download the geo-caching app before you visit you can try and find them all...
- Tracker packs - Discover all sorts of nature with our tracker packs! Jam-packed full of spotter guides, tools, binoculars and more besides to study every kind of species you might find on the heath.
- Heath barn - Learn about the history of the site, have a go at some crafts, play some games, or peer into the cabinet of curiosities filled with natural wonders.
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