Minsmere has been a huge part of my life, but I'm concerned that the Minsmere that I love so much is under threat from the current proposals by EDF to build a massive new nuclear power station on its southern boundary.
As a child I often read about the amazing birds seen here, dreaming that one day I'd have the chance to see a bittern, marsh harrier or avocet. I never thought that I'd get to work there one day. I first visited in the autumn during the late 1980s and failed to see any of those species on that visit - not surprisingly as I look back now, since avocets and marsh harriers were summer visitors at Minsmere back then, and bitterns were becoming rarer.
Marsh harrier by Jon Evans
I returned in 1990, this time as a volunteer for two weeks during my university summer holiday, and with much more success. I can still vividly remember that fortnight, during which I did see my first bittern - and my first spoonbill. And there were avocets, marsh harriers, bearded tits and nightjars! I volunteered again twice during my postgraduate course 25 years ago, during which time I first experienced the hard work required to manage the reedbed. As if breaking the ice to wade through the reeds to cut them wasn't bad enough, sinking into a deer track and filling my waders with icy water was far from fun. The discomfort was quickly forgotten as several woodlarks, water pipits and bearded tits circled overhead, catching insects disturbed by the fires as we burned the cut reeds!
Finally, in January 2003, I arrived at Minsmere as a paid member of staff - and 18 years later they haven't managed to get rid of me yet! It was my dream job, and I still can't think of anywhere else I'd rather work - at least, nowhere else in the UK.
The reasons? The wildlife. The people. The tranquillity. The views. The success stories. They say that variety is the spice of life, and Minsmere brings more than it's fair share of variety. Here I list just a few of the reasons that I love Minsmere.
I love Minsmere because of the amazing wildlife that I see here every day. Whether I'm watching the sparrowhawk make a lightning fast pass of the feeders (usually unsuccessfully) or a bittern emerging stealthily from the reeds, Minsmere always has something unusual in store. I've seen a huge variety of rare birds and insects here, including Baird's and white-rumped sandpipers from North America, black-winged stilts and bee-eaters from the Mediterranean, yellow-legged tortoiseshell butterflies and red-footed falcons from south-east Europe or Pallas's warblers and red-flanked bluetails from Siberia. I've watched elegant avocets sweeping their slender upcurved bills through the shallows and peregrines stooping headlong into a huge starling murmuration at dusk. I've spent many a lunchtime marvelling at the comings and goings of the many bees and wasps in Digger Alley, and been in the right place at the right time as that flying barn door that is a white-tailed eagle has drifted high overhead. But most of all, I've always seen something unexpected, exciting, colourful, noisy, whether common or rare.
Red-flanked bluetail, one of the rare visitors that I've been lucky enough to see at Minsmere. Photo by Jon Evans
I love Minsmere because of the incredible people that I see every day. I've been so lucky to work with an amazing team of volunteers and staff here. Their knowledge and enthusiasm is infectious, and even now I'm learning something new almost every day. Our volunteer guides have discovered new species for Minsmere, researched the life cycles of the inhabitants of Digger Alley, or spent hours patiently monitoring the comings and goings (or not) of our nesting bitterns. Our reception team welcome hundreds of visitors every day, always with a smile, helping them to find their way around the reserve and directing them to our seasonal wildlife hotspots. Our retail team know their products inside out, helping customers to choose the right items for their requirements. Our cafe team cook the best cheese scones and cakes in Suffolk - but regular visitors don't need reminding of that whilst our cafe remains closed due to Lockdown 2 (we hope to reopen next week). The wardening team work incredibly hard, in all weathers, to maintain Minsmere's habitats in perfect condition for the incredible range of wildlife that lives here. But most all, it's our visitors that inspire us every day with their tales of exciting discoveries, first sightings of bitterns/bearded tits/otters/add your own species as appropriate or memories of past visits. Thank you to all of you for making our work so enjoyable.
The Love Minsmere Festival, 2019. Photo by David Tipling
I love Minsmere for the tranquillity. There are few places in the UK where you can genuinely escape the noise of traffic, but Minsmere is one of them. Whether sitting on the beach, watching the waves crash onto the shore, or sheltering beneath a massive oak tree when caught out in the rain, Minsmere is the perfect place to relax, refresh and unwind. And if you visit early or late in the day, the chances are that you'll have the reserve all to yourself - well, you'll have to share it with 6200 species of wildlife, but I think you get my drift.
I love Minsmere for the views. Minsmere encapsulates wild Britain perfectly. OK, so we don't have any upland habitats, but where else in England can you enjoy such magnificent, wide vistas, staring our over the sea, then turning round to scan above a golden reedbed, and just a few minutes later be walking through a deep leaf litter, or return to the same spot in spring as appreciate the fragrant aroma of bluebells close to the golden spikes of yellow flag irises? I never tire of watching the sun rise over the North Sea, or set beyond Island Mere, turning the whole sky burnt orange or salmon pink. As a staff member I'm also lucky enough to often still be on the reserve after dark, especially in midwinter, and the total lack of street lighting ensures a perfect clear, dark sky in which you can see even the faintest of stars flickering above - if only I knew which constellation was which!
Sunset over Island Mere
I love Minsmere for the success stories. The return of avocets as nesting birds to the UK in 1947. The creation of the Scrape in the early 1960s and subsequent arrival of nesting black-headed gulls and common terns. The recovery of bearded tit populations from just four pairs at Minsmere in 1947 to colonisation of reedbeds across the UK. Similarly with marsh harriers, which barely clung on when the last pair in the UK nested at Minsmere in 1971. Careful research and habitat creation/restoration work at Minsmere has seen the recovery of bittern populations nationally, the return of stone-curlews and Dartford warblers to Minsmere's heathland, and the colonisation of insects such as Norfolk hawker dragonflies, willow emerald damselflies and antlions.
I could go on, so numerous are the reasons why I love Minsmere. I'm sure you all have your own reasons why you, too love Minsmere. If you do, then please join us on Friday for the first Love Minsmere Live virtual event, as we'll be live streaming on Facebook, Twitter and You Tube from 10 am. There will be videos of Minsmere's wildlife, interviews with some of our staff and volunteers, and guest appearances from Chris Packham, Megan McCubbin and more. If you can't make it on Friday, the event will be available to catch up afterwards too. To join us for this event, please follow the appropriate link below:
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654
Accepting all non-essential cookies helps us to personalise your experience
These cookies are required for basic web functions
Allow us to collect anonymised performance data
Allow us to personalise your experience