Minsmere nature reserve consists of 1,500 acres of reedbed, muddy lagoons, woodland and heath with rich variety of breeding, passage and wintering birds. Owned and managed by the RSPB it is situated mainly in the parish of Westleton.

Management by the RSPB consists of controlling the invasion of the open heath by trees which is achieved by selective thinning-out of Scots pine and birch. The woodland's natural regeneration is retarded by rabbits and therefore long-term maintenance must include planting young trees. Oak, beech and hawthorn are planted and sycamore, bracken and rhododendron are removed to improve the structure by opening the canopy to allow improved growth of the herb and shrub layers. The small area of pasture is maintained by licensed grazing and haymaking for the benefit of the flora and breeding snipe.


The reedswamp that is such a feature of the reserve has to be controlled. The reed must be prevented from invading the open meres and ditches, and trees must be prevented from invading the reedbeds. This is the most intensive, regular management carried out on the reserve.

One habitat, the 'Scrape', is man-made. It is a combination of shallow water, wet mud and small islands of varied surfaces - shingle, moss or grasses. It was created using heavy plant and a large amount of back-breaking human effort. To retain the open wet mud, so important for waders, management must be intensive, because it is a fertile area for plants. Care must also be taken over the control of water levels and their salinities, so that optimum conditions for wader feeding can be maintained. Vegetation on the islands has to be managed to remain suitable for breeding terns, avocets and other waders.

Over 300 species have been recorded and about 100 breed each year. Between the middle of May and the end of July is an excellent time for an evening walk along the public footpaths on the heath to enjoy the churring nightjars, roding woodcock, owls and smaller birds such as the tree pipit and stonechat. It is in spring, before the leaves become too dense, that there are the best views of nuthatch, the three woodpeckers, nightingale, redstart and most of the other songbirds to be expected in southern England. Where the woodland meets the wetland edge, Cetti's warblers can be heard singing.

The 400 acres of reedbeds are inhabited by bittern, marsh harrier, bearded tit and water rail are regularly seen. From the tree and island mere hides there are good views of warblers and wildfowl. Occasionally a rare spoonbill or a purple heron might be seen on the edge of the reeds and kingfishers as they fish from suitable perches near the hides.

The Scrape is ideal for gaining close views of breeding terns, avocets and other waders. Since it was made, forty-six species of wader have been recorded here.

From April to mid-September there is good birdwatching here, but it is in late summer and early autumn when there is a mixture of plumages - summer, winter, adult, juvenile or a combination of any of these - when identification by dedicated birdwatchers can really be enjoyed to its fullest.

The large amount of heathland is largely ling and bell heather with patches of gorse and bracken. A natural succession of Scots pine and birch with some oak and hawthorn is spreading into the heath. The woodland originates from 19th century game coverts and is mixed with oak and Scots pine dominant and sweet chestnut, sycamore, hazel, birch and beech are very noticeable.

There is a small area of pasture with a diverse array of plants such as ragged robin, bog cotton, yellow rattle, marsh stitchwort, lousewort, various clovers, marsh orchids, interesting grasses, sedges, and rushes. In the surrounding ditches grow water violet and pondweeds. While common reed dominates the reedbeds there are odd patches of bulrush with a sprinkling of willow, oak and hawthorn and a large amount of marsh sowthistle.

The variety of habitats provides a good number of insect species. So far identified are over 300 species of moth, twenty-four butterflies and sixty-six species of beetle.

The American mink, escapees from local fur producing mink farms, has been recorded in the small open bodies of water. Otters are present in winter and sometimes breed. Also in the marshes are the abundant water voles, prey of the marsh harrier. Harvest mice nest in the reeds and feed in autumn on the nuts of alders. Three species of shrew are present. Red deer are rarely seen because they hide in the woods during the day, but they come to the reedbed to feed at night. Brown hares can be seen feeding on the new saltmarsh vegetation on the Scrape.


Minsmere picture gallery