The low-lying landscape of Suffolk's five estuaries allows for beautiful views across saltmarshes, grazing marshes and mudflats. These valuable habitats, formed where the river meets the sea, are important feeding areas for birds and wildlife and provide opportunties for a wide range of activities, including sailing, fishing, walking and cycling.
All of Suffolk's estuaries are remarkable, but the two most southerly - the Stour and Orwell - are wetlands of particular contrasting character. Here, a dramatic tension exists between their beautiful scenery and spectacular wildlife, and in contrast, large-scale human usage - most starkly expressed in the mighty cranes and giant container ships that populate the Port of Felixstowe, one of the largest and busiest ports in England.
Our Five Estuaries
The Blyth estuary is 4 miles (6.5Km) long starting at Blythburgh and finishing at its mouth at Southwold Harbour. You can catch a ferry across the Blyth estuary at Southwold or Walberswick. This ancient ferry has been running since the 13th Century - a truly remarkable achievement! The harbour at Southwold is still an active fishing harbour. Minsmere and Walberswick have a wonderful National Nature Reserve where you can hear Bittern “booming” in spring and see Natterjack Toads.
The Alde and Ore is Suffolk’s longest estuary at nearly 16 miles (25.5Km) long. It is separated from the sea by a narrow shingle spit. The head of the Alde estuary is at Snape, where you can visit Snape Maltings, the music venue made internationally famous by Benjamin Britten. Orford Ness is Europe’s largest vegetated spit –10 miles (16km) long! The spit formed almost entirely of flint deposited by waves through the process of long-shore drift. Orford Ness is an internationally important nature reserve because of the shingle habitat and the birds and seals that live there.
The Deben estuary is 10miles (16km) long. The mouth of the estuary is very interesting as it has moving islands of shingle called the Knolls that change with the weather and tides. The Deben has 40% of Suffolk's saltmarsh. The ancient market town of Woodbridge was once a major ship building town providing ships for the English fleet fighting the Spanish Armada in 1588. Smugglers used to land their stolen goods at Woodbridge to sell. Today there are still many boats in the river, some working, but the majority are used for fun!
Simon Read - local artist and Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Middlesex University combines his passion for art and working for his local community to monitor environmental impact on this landscape. Read the article and watch the film here.
The Orwell is 11 1/2 miles long starting at Ipswich where the dock has operated since the 17th century. It is a very narrow estuary but is home to the largest port in Britain. Alongside all of this activity the estuary has nationally important habitats for birds. There are nature reserves at Trimley, Levington and Nacton which you can visit. Peregrine Falcons nest on the Orwell Bridge.
The Stour estuary is 10 3/4 miles long. The name Stour comes from the Celtic word sturr meaning "strong". The River Stour was one of the first improved rivers or canals in England. Parliament passed an act in 1705 to make the river easier to use from the town of Manningtree, to Sudbury. Horses pulled boats called lighters carrying cargo of pitch, tar, soap, vinegar, resin, glass, butter and apples.
What can be seen here...
Plants: sea lavender, common reed
Birds: redshank, lapwing, avocet, marsh harrier, bittern, peregrine falcon
Other wildlife: ragworms, seals, otters