The beautiful and wildlife-rich nature of the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB is recognised not only by its designation as an AONB, but also by its large number of wildlife designations. From national, through to European and global designations, the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB has them all. However, look beneath the beautiful landscape rich in wildlife and there are many stories of conservation loss, as well as success.
It is the area’s geology and soils, the way humans have managed and settled the land over millennia, and mother nature herself that have shaped the wildlife interests that we see today in this special place.
The rare and distinctive Sandlings heath is home to rare birds such as the woodlark, nightjar and Dartford warbler. The adder, natterjack toad, silver studded blue, together with the frighteningly named ant-lion, are also rare and distinctive species found only in a few other places where heathland occurs. However, we’ve lost 80% of the Sandlings heaths since the 1930s, so what remains is a precious and incredibly scarce resource.
On our coast and estuaries, wildlife occurs in extraordinary variety. Saltmarsh plants, wetland and coastal birds, mammals – you name it! Suffolk coast conservation success stories include the bittern, avocet and marsh harrier - all species that have been brought back from the brink of extinction here by the work of organisations like the RSPB and Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Another iconic species found here is the otter. Our little terns continue to decline however; nesting on our shingle beaches, they are incredibly vulnerable to disturbance by people and dogs, as well as stormy seas. Human disturbance is a key challgenge for the future as it has a huge impact on our estuaries, where large numbers of wintering birds return each year and are vulnerable to continued disturbance when feeding.
You can enjoy wildlife across the area, on farmland, coast, estuary and heath. However there are a few iconic nature reserves that a wildlife enthusiast shouldn’t miss. Minsmere, one of the RSPB’s principal reserves, must rank at the top, for both the wildlife and its visitor facilities. In addition, Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Hen Reedbeds and Trimley Marshes are well worth a visit, as is Orford Ness, owned by the National Trust, although you’ll need to arrange your visit there in advance. The heathlands of the AONB are designated Open Access land, so are all free for you to explore.