The BBC’s popular Springwatch programme has announced it is moving to a new base – on the doorstep of Milsom Hotels and Restaurants.

The nature programme will return to BBC Two from its new home at RSPB Minsmere. This Suffolk reserve is one of the UK’s richest wildlife areas will be the base for the new three-week series from May 26th.

Nearly ten kilometres south of Southwold and eleven kilometres north of Aldeburgh within the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is found one of the most diverse natural environments in the British Isles. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds established the reserve at Minsmere (RSPB Minsmere) to foster the biodiversity of the area in 1947. This reserve enjoys the protection of SSSI, SAC, SPA and Ramsar Site conservation statuses.

RSPB Minsmere covers an area of nearly ten square kilometres. The site is rich and diverse in habitat. There are reed beds, lowland heath, shingle beaches and lowland wet grassland.

The Habitats

The four largest habitats of RSPB Minsmere represent some of the best bird watching opportunities in the UK These areas provide prime nesting habitat for a great number of native bird species. In fact, the reed beds represent breeding habitat for roughly 30% of the United Kingdom’s breeding population of Great Bittern birds. There are also great numbers of many other rare and interesting species of bird and animal life. RSPB Minsmere is home to 240 migratory species and over 100 resident species of bird.

Outside of the four main habitats, RSPB Minsmere boasts woodland habitat, saline lagoons, sandy dune scapes and more. This reserve offers a glimpse at a British landscape that has almost been lost. Red deer, primitive horses and cattle, birds and other animals live together in a way that approaches true wilderness of centuries past.

Reed Beds

The reed beds of Minsmere spread out over nearly two square kilometres. This area represents nearly four percent of the UK’s existing reed bed habitat. Most reed beds are dominated by large common reed plants and reed sweet grass an several smaller species of reed. Large sedge grasses, flowering rushes, water forget-me-nots and bog friendly irises provide diversity and colour.

Bird species include the Great Bittern, warblers, Purple Heron, European Spoonbill and many other water birds. Some of the water birds, such as Reed Buntings, Bearded Reedlings and Western Marsh Harriers are found in few other places. Animals found in the reed beds can include European beaver, water vole and even otters.

Lowland Heath

These ancient landscapes are made up of a mixture of dry and wet heath and valley mires. The acidic soil and shallow peat grow a number of hardy plants. Heathers, lichens, fine bladed grasses are the backdrop to a number of colourful wild flowers. Wet heaths are more biologically diverse than dry heaths as they are often home to murderously fascinating carnivorous plans and mosses.

Today, the UK contains a fifth of the world’s remaining lowland heath. RSPB Minsmere is home to a good portion of that share. Here, a visitor may see warblers, stonechat, nightjars and wrens. The lowland heath here is carefully monitored under a biodiversity action plan to insure the health of these delicate ecological niches.

Wet Meadow

The wet meadow is an interesting part of the preserve. These lands are fully saturated with water for most of the year. But, they lack standing water like a true marsh and dry out for periods of time. These meadows boast a number of water tolerant land plants as well as aquatic plants that survive the dry spells in dormancy or as seed. Here you will find flowering sedges, rushes and many grasses. Terrestrial wild orchids and other flowers may sometimes be seen amongst the greenery.

Wet meadows are important to biodiversity as they provide some of the most diverse habitats for birds and other wildlife. They require regular destruction by flame, drought or cutting to remain healthy.

Shingle Beach

These stony stretches of land are found by the seaside. Instead of sand, the beach surface is made up of medium to small stones and pebbles. Most shingle beaches will have stones that range from two to two hundred millimetres in size.

The surfaces of these beaches are generally steeper than sand beaches. The stones provide a The shingle beach area is home to several endangered and rare species of bird. The textured surfaces of the stones provide both habitat and feeding opportunities for many types of creature.

Conservation

The reed beds are carefully maintained year round to prevent any shocks to their delicate ecological systems. Water levels are controlled to prevent hard drought and severe flooding. The reeds and grasses are also routinely cut to encourage ecological succession. This process is natural, and means that different types of plants will be growing in different parts of the reed beds at any given time. In uncontrolled environments, this process takes place through catastrophic and dangerous events like wild fire or drought.

Other habitats are maintained in other ways. A small herd of Polish Konik horses and Highland cattle provide year round grazing to control the spread of scrub land and ecological succession in the wettest parts of the reserve. In the heath and grasslands, Exmoor ponies and British sheep graze areas more heavily.

A Wonderful Success

Minsmere has one success story that stands out from the others. The Great Bittern is a reed bed roosting species of heron. These grateful wading birds are covered by AEWA, or Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds. These herons are stockily built and the largest of the bittern species. They sport bright buff plumage with plentiful streaks and bar markings. These large birds have a wing span of 100 to 130 centimetres and weight in just under two kilogram’s.

In 1991 only one breeding male was spotted. Over the next few years the reed beds were restored by lowering the beds and removing many years worth of decaying plant material. Old waterways and deeper open water pools were sculpted into the landscape. Soon, a healthy 28 hectares of reed beds were home to many nesting Great Bittern herons. Other species began to rebound too; Reed Warblers and otters in particular.

Visit the Reserve

The reserves are open to the public from sun up to sun down. There are a number of purpose built pathways and 19 kilometres of public rights of way. Seven bird hides are placed strategically around the park, to allow an up close view of nature. The park can also provide guides, binoculars and Explorer Packs for children. Visitors are asked to refrain from lighting fires, stay on the footpaths and to leave pets at home.

Kesgrave Hall Hotel in Suffolk is situated 30 minutes from RSPB Minsmere and the perfect location for afternoon tea, lunch or dinner after exploring Suffolk’s Coast. Why not take advantage of one of our special offers and enjoy an overnight stay while you’re here?

+ Sue Bunting

Wed 14 May 2014, Milsom Hotels