Dunwich Heath is the heathland component of a composite site which contains the Dunwich Marshes flood-plain mires and carr and covers at least 400 ha, on low-lying non-calcareous sands of the glacial beds known as the East Suffolk Sandlings

Sketch map of National Trust Dunwich Heath

Dunwich Heath is situated within the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This protected area runs the length of the Suffolk coast, with a breadth of a few miles, from Ipswich to just south of Lowestoft. Topographically, Dunwich Heath is part of the Sandlings, a large geological formation with characteristic nutrient-poor and free-draining yellow sandy soil that gives the Sandlings their name. These surface deposits originated from a combination of glacial meltwaters and river bed silt and gravel. In prehistoric times the Dunwich Sandlings were probably covered by birch/oak woodland, which was felled in the Neolithic and early Bronze Ages. Removal of the trees exposed the soil to rainwater leaching of nutrients and provided the ecological conditions for heathland plants. This heathland was an important resource for the coastal parishes providing land for crops and grazing, as well as materials for fuel, fencing and thatch. For centuries, the ancient management practices to maintain the heathland productive consisted of a combination of grazing cutting and burning. Over the past century approximately 80% of heathland habitat has been lost by conversion to arable, plantation forestry and housing development. Dunwich Heath (87 ha.) is a relatively large area that has survived as heathland and is now managed for wildlife by the National Trust and is being augmented by management of adjacent farmland to heathland.

This is the common land of Dunwich and Westleton, mostly consisting of mainly dry gravelly soils with a mixture of three kinds of heather and bracken and two species of gorse with wet patches of rushy grassland. There is an extensive area of old gravel quarries at the edge of Westleon village. Areas of birch scrub have developed locally and there is some rowan. The ornithological interest of these heathlands is high, for they are a refuge of decreasing species such as stone curlew, nightjar, red-backed shrike and woodlark and hen harrier. Other important wildlife comprises adders, grass snakes, glow worms, green tiger beetles, ant-lions, solitary bees and waspts as well as many butterflies, moths and dragonflies.

The site also contains a variety of ornithologically interesting woodland types, ranging from alder carr, birchwoods, open coverts of mature Scots pine, and mixed deciduous, oak-dominant plantations.

During the Second World War, Dunwich Heath along with Minsmere wetlands to the south were requisitioned for military training including preparations for the D-Day landings. Local concern about the damage to the heathland vegetation by car parking and campers led to it being purchased by the National Trust in 1968 as part of the Enterprise Neptune Coastline Campaign, with funds from H.J. Heinz Co. Ltd..

In 2002, Mount Pleasant Farm (66ha.) situated between Dunwich Heath and the RSPB's Minsmere reserve was purchased jointly by the NT and RSPB with the aim of restoring the farmland to a mixture of acid grassland and heather to provide an increased area of lowland heath habitat. The block of land is jointly managed by the RSPB and NT.

Three walks for visitors have been established each of which takes in the major habitats of gorse, heather and birch.

Picture Gallery

Mount Pleasant Farm on the southern edge of Dunwich Village was bought by the National Trust for the Nation with grant aid from Pizza Express as part of the Neptune Coastline Campaign.

Much of the land was being farmed as an outdoor pork raising enterprise. It is now the site of an experiment to restore maritime heathland.

Mount Pleasant Farm: habitat creation of heathland.

Seaward cliff edge of Dunwich Heath
Looking south towards Sizewell Nuclear Power Station from foot of Dunwich Heath: (power station is on the mid horizon)
Path along base of heathland
To the right of the path is the edge steeply rising southern edge of Dunwich Heath. The path runs alongside Docwra's Dyke, which marks the boundary of the National Trust Estate with that of the RSPB's Minsmere Nature Reserve.

The slopes of the heath have been cut through several layers of glacial sediment and this provides rich soils for the growth of bracken.

Old quarry in the southern edge of the heath.

Close up of base of quarry showing the breeding tunnels of digger wasps.

Children collecting aquatic invertebrates in Docwra's Dyke (2008)