Postcard from the Suffolk Coast

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British Wildlife

On a fine day, the narrow, shingle edge that shelters the great reed bed in the wide valley between the villages of Dunwich and Walberswick is one of the great coastal walks. There is a distant view of Southwold to the north across the bay. To the south, beyond the pretty houses and abbey ruins of Dunwich, are sloping cliffs above which sit the dry heaths of Dunwich Common which in turn overlooks Minsmere nature reserve and its huge wetlands and reed bed protected behind another shingle beach. In the distance, a low march of pylons half-hidden by even-aged, black conifers traces a path to the coast where Sizewell nuclear power station sits. Today, during a cold snap in late April, the furious wind flies in off the muddy North Sea and boxes the ears, so the walk is fast on the firm sand by the sea.

On the short grasslands before the shingle near Dunwich, a skylark bows and scrapes in courtship, but there is no pipe from a ringed plover; territories are evenly spaced on the long shingle ridge and now protected by a simple fence. In short sunny breaks, Southwold’s old, obtruding, white lighthouse is a distant view across the choppy water and the golden, old church tower at Walberswick rises out of the sheltering oaks.  The option to leave the shore and walk inland on a sea wall through the reed bed is the easy one; immediately, the wind relents away from the naked coast.  Few birds fly under the grey sky except pairs of wild duck including teal and gadwall. This is a day for being inside looking out and the small cafe at Walberswick is not far.

The next day the wind relents and the sun shines for the morning. On the dry heathland near Westleton, the gorse is in full flower and the deep lemon aroma fills the still air. Climbing corydalis rings the ancient silver birches by the path through the open woods of oak and sycamore. A small copper is active low to the ground and a woodlark sings from above a rabbit-grazed field, in the centre of which, a section of smooth turf has been neatly harrowed not for a crop but to attract a pair of stone curlews. Nature reserves today, like organic market gardens in Havana, have to make use of every available inch of ground to maximise output.

Postcard 9

Gorse, heather, silver birch and tussocks of purple moor grass; the primary constituents of lowland heathland.

At Dunwich Common, the weekend walkers outnumber the birds but a Dartford warbler chatters from the high gorse next to the car park and a long tail disappears through the leggy tangle; greenfinches breed here perhaps in the tall banks of bramble and goldfinches sing. One of a pair of linnets chases the other in a mad courtship dash, keeping low. The sea air is filled with spring song. The wind picks up and the Dartfords churr but stay low in the deep heather; the incoming cloud dulls the view and the dog walkers have the day.

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