As a member of the wildlife enquiries team you often get some great opportunities to find out about some excellent places to see wildlife and we are also incredibly lucky to be able to work with various other departments and staff members to further our knowledge and increase our experiences.
In my spare time I enjoy wildlife photography and are always looking for new and interesting locations and subjects to photograph. In my local area I often spend time searching the local farmland to photograph one of my favourite British mammals, the Brown Hare, however these are nervous animals, they can run extremely fast and often these two components make them quite tricky to photograph...I do my best but getting really close can be tricky!
Recently I heard about an amazing place in Suffolk to photograph these mammals up close and personal! Havergate Island is one of Suffolk's best kept secrets and one of the most amazing RSPB reserves out there, but the secret is out and this year the team who work on the island have been extremely pro-active in bringing people to the island to show them exactly what it has to offer! This is great news for everyone and I wanted to take a look myself! After getting in contact with Monika Koch, the Events Officer for Havergate it transpired that she had big plans for the island this year and those plans involved bringing people to Havergate to not only see the wonderful wildlife but also to engage in some artistic and creative events involving artists and photographers, much to my surprise (after Monika had thoroughly checked my credentials) I was offered the opportunity to not only see the island but to also become one of the photography tutors
This was a fantastic chance, not only would I get to see an amazing RSPB reserve and as an RSPB employee this is really valuable but I would also get to photograph the wildlife, pass on my knowledge and meet some great people including staff, members, non members and people interested in photography!
To properly undertake my tutoring role it was vital that I visited the island so arranged to visit twice so I could understand the lay of the land and gauge how best to see and photograph the wildlife there. For me the Hares are the stars of the island, almost upon arrival after the short 10 minute boat journey from Orford Quay I saw my first Brown Hare, it was sitting along the main footpath and quickly scampered off down the track upon seeing me. I was a little worried, the island was billed as somewhere where the Hares were incredibly tame but this one acted in the same way I have seen so many before. Regardless we moved on, scanned for birds in the hide which rewarded us with views of Redshank, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Shelduck, Cormorants and some Gulls, the lagoons here are a haven for birdlife and the island itself is extremely important for breeding Herring and Lesser Black Backed Gulls!
Soon we reached an area of gorse, this is one of the main "Hare" areas and within minutes Hares seemed to be everywhere! Popping out of the gorse, running along the track and interacting with each, I even saw some boxing!
Now I started to see what all the fuss was about, Hares casually strolled past me, sat and cleaned themselves on the track and nonchalantly moved around the gorse like I wasn't there! You cannot call these wild animals "tame" but certainly they are habitualised to people and this has to be the best place in the UK to see them up close and observe their behaviour, it was fantastic! The story goes that many years ago when Havergate had a resident farm the Hares were brought across to be hunted for food, the farm is long gone but the Hares are still around and this island lifestyle has afforded them a great deal of protection from hunting and predation, their natural fear of humans is somewhat missing and so they are far more tolerant of close encounters.
The other half of the island is just as amazing, as you stroll past the wooden huts where the wardens reside you enter as throng of noise and action which is the Gull breeding colony, the Gulls are yet to start nesting but I still made sure not to disturb them as best I could, soon Common Gulls will be back on the island nesting, Havergate is such an important nesting site for Gulls and as many of our Gull species are now on the decline this makes it even more important, when the Gulls have chicks it will be a great opportunity to see them up close, most people rarely get to see Gull chicks!
The end of the island offers another cracking view from a hide and more gorse and obviously more Hares! Whereas my first visit I was baking hot and bathed in glorious sunshine my second visit was slightly more of a wet affair and the majority of Hares I found were hunkered down looking rather grumpy and soaking wet! This one finally started to stir in amongst the gorse...
All good things come to an end and after two great trips I am now back on dry land and far away from Havergate. It was a wonderful place to visit, it goes to show that not all the RSPB reserves have to be big, well known and full of people....many of them are small gems tucked away, some have very little access to them because of their sensitive nature and some are hardly known about. These reserves are just as important as our marquee reserves, often so little is known about them that many RSPB members and members of the public won't even realise what great work goes on, what amazing wildlife inhabits them and how much good conservation work goes on, but it does, and its making a real difference! Kieren and Aaron manage the island and do a fantastic job!
I will be returning to Havergate, Monika's enthusiasm coupled with the charm of the island convinced me to say yes to the tutoring and I will be returning on June 22nd for one of the islands 'Days of Discovery', this will include sleeping on the island which I cannot wait for! I will get to see the sun set and then watch it rise, there will be a full moon and I will see everything in a whole new light. I would implore anyone to pay the island a visit, there are lots of opportunities to do so so there really is no excuse!
For more information please check out this section of the Havergate website: http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/h/havergate/events.aspx
Or e-mail Monika directly here: firstname.lastname@example.org
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