Alex Bass, a Wildlife Bio-diversity tutor and Wildlife Guide from Coastal Leisure Learning visited us and talked about the Wildlife of Suffolk and the Heritage Coast, with the main focus on Minsmere. He started by telling us a little about himself and how he started in Wivenhoe in Essex on the Alresford Creek, which looks across to Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve before moving to Leiston and then Saxmundham.
He then went on to tell us how Minsmere came into being, having been grazing marshes which were flooded in World War II as an anti-invasion measure. At that time the land was owned by Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie who, together with J.M. Barrie created Thorpeness.
In 1947 the RSPB leased fifteen hundred acres, subsequently purchasing the surrounding land for £240,000 with a mammoth fundraising effort. The Ogilvie family still own the Scotts Hall Estate, of which Minsmere was originally part. In 1960 the scrape was created by removing the top layers of vegetation, leaving a shallow dip which filled with brackish water, eventually surrounded by reedbeds, wood and scrubland. The reedbeds need careful management to prevent them reverting to scrubland and the woodland is managed by the Polish Konick ponies.
The avocet became the RSPB emblem after returning to Britain, at Minsmere in 1949, after a one hundred year absence and can now be frequently seen on the reserve.
Minsmere is part of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, 155 square miles of tranquil and very attractive countryside. It is fed by the River Minsmere which starts as the freshwater River Yox, the water then becoming brackish in the scrapes on the reserve. This provides a fantastic habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, including waders, ducks, geese, marsh harriers and bittern, plus in the wood and scrubland, many species of small and large birds as well as deer, badgers, foxes, stoats and more. The cliff in the old sandpits is colonised by sandmartins most years. Of course, not forgetting the ponds where children (and some adults) love to pond dip.
He showed us many beautiful slides of these varied habitats and the wildlife which can be seen there and also treated us to wonderful impressions of bird calls, which caused great amusement. He also tested our knowledge of bird life - the Lighthouse Ladies rose to the occasion!
Minsmere is host to innumerable migrants from both north and south, some flying great distances to be there for breeding and, in winter, feeding.
He also talked about Carlton Marshes, Hen Reedbed, Eastbridge and Westleton Heath as being good places for wildlife observation. We also learned that the row of poplars behind the Eels Foot Inn (originally a smugglers and drovers inn) were part of a plantation owned by Bryant and May which were harvested for matchstick making.
Anne thanked the speaker and the meeting concluded with tea, cake and biscuits. Our next meeting is on 21st January at 7.15 for 7.30 in Reydon Village Hall, when we will have a quiz social – visitors are welcome with a nominal charge of £2.