Route to the beach re-opened

Several severe winter storms and the tidal surge that hit the East Coast of the UK in December 2013 caused significant damage to many stretches of coastline, towns and villages, and the clean-up operation is still underway in many of those places.

On Orford Ness, there was severe damage caused to embankments and the drainage infrastructure. The stormy weather, high winds and the sea whipped up by the wild conditions also badly damaged two structures close to the beach.

The 19th century Coastguard Lookout, which closed in 1957, was already in a poor condition and an annexe accommodation building was destroyed, with the remainder of the main structure further de-stabilised.
Further along the beach, a wooden, lattice structured tower, known as the Police Tower as it was part of a security perimeter around the Atomic Weapons testing facility, was undermined, further damaged and left tilted at a rather rakish angle as a result of several metres of shingle beach being washed away.
More than sixty years of the rigours imposed by the very saline environment has not helped the structures either.

Police Tower after the December 2013 tidal surge

Police Tower after the December 2013 tidal surge

Coastguard Lookout building after the December 2013 tidal surge

Coastguard Lookout building after the December 2013 tidal surge

The two structures sat at each corner of a section of the main visitor route on the Ness, so, with safety in mind, we decided it was sensible to close this section until the buildings could be made safe and secure.
That work has now been completed and the route has been re-opened, so once again visitors can enjoy the full experience of Orford Ness and walk to and along the beach on their way around the visitor route.

As well as structural surveys, some fencing and clearance work was also carried out.
However, as you might imagine on a former weapons testing site, things are rarely simple and as the work sites were adjacent to the main bombing ranges, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit had to be called in to make sure the site was free from explosives before even a single fence post could be driven in.
Luckily, and unusually for the Ness, nothing was discovered!

LIFE+ breeds new life!

The EU-funded LIFE+ project on the Ness is now complete and we are delighted to report that 2014 has been a hugely successful breeding year, highlighted by Common Tern chicks fledging here for the first time in 50 years!

Common Tern Picture: North East Wildlife

Common Tern
Picture: North East Wildlife

Breeding birds play a huge role in the diverse wildlife on the Ness. Sometimes, we ask visitors to avoid an area or a certain part of a route to avoid disturbance, and we are grateful to all those who help us give the birds some space – it has certainly paid off.

We have had more Redshank and Lapwing chicks fledging than in recent years, whilst areas cleared of rush and rank grass in the late autumn and the creation of a network of foot-drains (linear scrapes) in 2013 also proved attractive to the Lapwings, with juveniles regularly seen from the red route feeding on invertebrates around the muddy edges.

Three Oystercatcher chicks have fledged so far and are the first known to do so on site since 2006. Avocets have also had their most productive year for a while with 47 pairs and at least 18 juveniles fledging.

Avocet and chicks

Avocet and chicks

One of the highlights of the year has been the return of Common Tern to Orford Ness as a breeding species. At the time of writing, two chicks have fledged and another is close to doing so. Since the 1960’s, the only breeding record was an unsuccessful attempt on King’s Marsh in 2012, so the chicks are probably the first in 50 years, and we are absolutely delighted to see them here.

The new lagoons on King’s Marsh held over 90 pairs of Black-headed Gull, many of the breeding pairs of Avocets and also at least 15 pairs of Common Terns.
As water levels start to drop, flocks of Dunlin, Godwit, and Spoonbill are being attracted in to feed and roost on the exposed mud whilst large numbers of Little Egret on the marshes give the site a rather exotic feel.

We couldn’t do it without them!

A dedicated group of volunteers who give up their time every week to help keep Orford Ness open to visitors have been thanked by the National Trust.

The National Nature Reserve’s unusual landscape is home to such rare wildlife that it is recognised as being of international conservation importance.
Visitors to the National Trust site are always keen to learn more about the wildlife habitats and it is largely thanks to the hard work and dedication of volunteers that they are able to find out so much about this special place.

More than 30 National Trust Volunteers at Orford Ness carry out a wide variety of roles, from helping bring people to the site, helping them find their way around, answering questions about the wildlife and history of the former MoD weapons testing site, to gathering detailed data about the birds and wildlife that make the Ness their home.

On Sunday July 13, the annual Community Day that invites residents from the surrounding villages of Orford & Gedgrave, Butley, Iken, Sudbourne and Boyton to visit the Ness for free took place.
After a day of welcoming visitors, the team held their annual summer barbecue, with a number of volunteers receiving awards for dedication that has seen them clock up 130 years of volunteering between them.

Countryside Manager Grant Lohoar presented 12 volunteers with their commemorative five year badges, whilst there was also applause for volunteer and specialist bird ringer Gillian Stannard, who received her ten year badge.
A celebration cake, commemorative badges and letters from Regional Director Ben Cowell were presented to three volunteers who have each given 20 years of volunteering to the Ness.
Silke Miles, Mike Marsh and David Crawshaw were all thanked for their hard work.

Mr Lohoar told the volunteer team: “We have all said that we couldn’t do it without you, and we are so lucky to have you all here, doing the jobs you do.
“Through all the continued hard work, some of the team have amassed a huge amount of information that is so valuable to us and they continue to do so, and we can only thank them from the bottom of our hearts.”

Peter Whiley, himself a volunteer of 16 years who is also the Volunteer Co-ordinator for Orford Ness, said: “More than half of the team have done ten or more years of volunteering here. We are team who all get on well and everyone mucks in.
“We’re all people who like to be out and about and enjoy helping to care for the wonderful wildlife and birdlife here – it’s not a bad way to spend your time!”

Community Day is on the way

Every year at Orford Ness, we have a day when people living in the surrounding communities can visit for free, meet with our team and find out the latest about what is happening on the Ness.

This Sunday will see the 2014 Community Day take place, and, as always, we look forward to welcoming people from the villages of Orford and Gedgrave, Butley, Iken, Sudbourne and Boyton to the Ness.

There will be lots of news to share with you this year, particularly as we are now in the final stages of completing the LIFE+ project, which has seen us create habitats for a wide range of birds and other wildlife. We have been delighted with the numbers of birds breeding on the Ness this year and our conservation work on this very special place will continue to grow.

As many local people will know, Orford Ness is a place of great importance, both here in the UK and on a wider international stage too. A National Nature Reserve, it is also a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and has been given some of the most important nature designations in Europe.

People come from far and wide to visit the Ness and we are always pleased to meet them and share information about what makes this place so special.
For those visitors living closer, we hope our Community Day is a great opportunity to visit the Ness, find out the latest news, discover more about our conservation work and how we care for a landscape that has such an extraordinary past, but always with the future in our minds.

People living in Orford and Gedgrave, Butley, Iken, Sudbourne and Boyton will have received a voucher in the parish magazine, which can be exchanged for tickets at the National Trust Quay Office on Sunday.
The first boat over to the Ness will leave at 10am and the last boat over at 1.40pm. The last boat returning to the Quay will be at 5pm.

We hope to see you there!

The Secret Landscape

The challenging landscape of Orford Ness has taken on a new artistic appearance, thanks to the arrival of a new art installation.

The installation, by Anya Gallaccio, is made up of a series of large panels featuring images made using extreme magnification photography, that have been placed around the site for visitors to discover.

The project is part of the 1418NOW programme, which has commissioned a series of artists to create artworks, installations, poetry, sculpture and more to mark the centenary of the First World War.
The installation, called The Secret Landscape, was commissioned by the SNAP arts project, which is part of the annual Aldeburgh Festival, and Anya’s works will also be on display at Snape Maltings.

The installation references the almost abstract quality of early war aerial photographs as well as the experiments in air bombing and weapons development that took place at Orford Ness.
In keeping with the theme of the 1418NOW programme, Gallaccio was inspired to create the panels by the mysterious miltary past of the Ness as well as its unique geological landscape.
The photography used on the panels references these two elements of the Ness and are actually of a pebble taken from an area reserved for safely exploding the live ordnance that is still found here.
The broken pieces of the pebble have been magnified 20,000 times under a microscope to look like early aerial photographs.

The panels have been created using a canvas that will allow the wind to blow through them – an essential on the Ness! – and have been sited so visitors walking near to the Bomb Ballistics building, the Black Beacon and Lab 1, all buildings that date back to the Ness’ time as a military test site, will be able to get up close to view them, or choose to look from a distance.

This week, we welcomed a number of journalists to Orford Ness to see the artworks up close and to meet Anya and the SNAP team and hear more about both the installation, and the history of the military experimentation on the Ness.

The Secret Landscape

If you are visiting us this month, be sure to take a look The Secret Landscape, which will be here throughout June.

An excellent day!

Orford Ness is very unusual amongst National Trust properties – there is challenging terrain here, a unique story and very little that feels like the stereotype some might have of the Trust!

TripAdvisor June 2014

As we’re able to meet so many of our visitors as we take them to and from the Ness on our ferry boat, we’re often delighted to hear what a great day so many of them have had. We hear that they enjoy experiencing the remote and quiet landscape, coupled with the wonderful wildlife we have here.

So, you can just imagine how pleased we were when we opened some of the post this week and discovered a Certificate of Excellence from the Trip Advisor website.
All thanks to the positive reviews from our visitors.

We’ll be proudly displaying the certificate in our Quay Office and thank you to all those who took the time to write reviews about their visit.

Wildlife is thriving in this special place

National Trust Wildlife Advisor Stuart Warrington takes a look at just some of the species that call Orford Ness their home.

Orford Ness is one the most important coastal shingle sites in the whole of Europe. Shingle is a harsh place for plants and animals to live, so those that do survive here can be rare and special.

The shingle at Orford Ness has been thrown up into ridges by the sea, and the first and second beach top ridges have scattered plants of Sea Kale, Yellow-horned Poppy, Sea Beet and extensive patches of Sea Pea.
Orford Ness probably supports the greatest concentration in the UK of Sea Pea, a beautiful and nationally scarce plant. The Sea Pea is very susceptible to trampling, and is one of the plants that we care for best by asking our visitors to avoid walking on the shingle ridges.

Sea Pea and Sea Kale on one of the ridges at the Northern End of the Ness

Older ridges have an abundance of the white flowered Sea Campion with False Oat-grass, Sheep’s Sorrel, Sea Mayweed and English Stonecrop, plus numerous lichens. Dust and debris around the buildings allows more wildflowers to get a toehold, so here look for Shepherd’s Cress, Slender Thistle, Early Forget-me-not, Sticky Mouse-ear, Procumbent Pearlwort, Suffocated Clover, Spotted Medick and Weld.  Thousands of plants of the rare Cudweed grow in the cracks along the concrete military roads.

The grazing marshes are the best place to see the abundant birdlife of Orford Ness. The shallow pools and their muddy margins are great for Lapwing, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Avocet.
The slightly deeper lagoons attract loads of ducks such as Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler and Shelduck. If you are lucky you can see Little Egret, Grey Heron and even Spoonbill.
Look out for Kestrel, Marsh Harrier and even a day-flying Barn Owl – they all live on the Ness in the summer.

This barn pwl was photographed on the Ness in May 2014

This barn owl was photographed on the Ness in May 2014

Water Voles live in the ditches, but they are very secretive, so you may have a better chance of seeing a Chinese Water Deer or Brown Hare, both of which thrive on the Ness.

There are hundreds of insect species, many of which are classed as nationally rare.
They each have a preferred habitat on the Ness, from the shingle, to the saltmarsh, saline lagoons, grazing marshes and ditches.
One rare specialist is the Ground Lackey moth, whose caterpillars feed together on the saltmarsh plants and they are able to survive being covered by the tide every day.
Another is the Bombardier beetle, which live around the rubble of the old buildings, and is able to fire a hot liquid from its tail to ward off enemies.

Everything’s Coming Up Rosettes

Sheep from Orford Ness have been strutting their stuff in the presence of royalty in the competition ring of the Suffolk Show this week, competing in a series of classes.

Shepherd Andrew Capell and Ranger Glen Moon took two Jacob rams and a Whitefaced Woodland ewe, together with her two seven-week-old lambs, to the show and they were just as big a hit outside of the show ring as well as in – ewe could say that visitors flocked to see them!

The rams, Ben and Sam, were competing in a class of Jacobs and both earned praise from the judge for their looks, although they weighed-in on the slim size compared to their competitors.
Being conservation grazers, the Orford Ness flock are not given supplementary feed, and, in the world of sheep at least, some fat on their bones would have gone in their favour, although fourth and fifth place rosettes were very welcome for a first-time outing.

Andrew and Ben Suffolk Show

It was a double-rosette appearance for Wendy, the Whitefaced Woodland, who not only came third in her class of ewes, but was also awarded the Special Prize for Rare Breed Animals on a Watch List.
Wendy’s two lambs almost stole the show with their comedy antics in the ring – although thankfully there were no prizes for the naughtiest sheep in the show.
On Thursday, when HRH Prince Harry attended the Suffolk Show, both the rams and Wendy were invited to compete in the Presidents Ring in a class reserved for previous prize winners – the Champion of Champions class.

Wendy and lambs Suffolk Show

Kite, the Orford Ness sheepdog, also showed he has great potential as he beat off competition to scoop fourth place in the sheepdog class, even though he is still in training.
All in all, a very successful first visit to the Suffolk Show and perhaps the start of things to come for Orford’s prize-winning flock.

The rams, Ben and Sam, were hugely popular with visitors who enjoyed giving them lots of attention, whilst Wendy Woodland and her lambs were a huge draw for families. We think they might just have been the most photographed sheep at the show!
Visitors to the show were interested to learn more about the work of these conservation grazing sheep, who help to create habitats for ground-nesting birds, encourage insects and help maintain this important National Nature Reserve.

LIFE Project latest

David Mason has been the Project Manager for the LIFE Alde-Ore Future for Wildlife project since it began four years ago.
As the project nears completion, David has had the opportunity to meet with teams working on similar projects from around Europe.
Here, he tells us more about the conference, which took place further along the East coast, in North Norfolk.

On a recent visit to Norwich, North Norfolk and the Broads as part of a conference for EU LIFE projects I had the opportunity to meet up with and learn from fellow members of the LIFE family from around Europe.
We heard from a range of projects involved in work to combat the effects of climate change and how LIFE funding can help in the future.
I had the opportunity to represent the National Trust and give a presentation about the Alde-Ore Future for Wildlife project, the recent storm events and the longer term implications of a more variable and changing climate on coastal nature reserves and properties.

The National Trust’s Shifting Shores policy emphasises the need to adapt to changing conditions, work together with nature and in partnership with others to take a joined up approach to these issues.
Many conservation organisations have landscape-scale policies such as this including the Wildlife Trust’s Living Landscapes and RSPB Futurescapes, which take an ecosystems approach to land management.
Looking at whole systems like a river catchment rather than individual areas of land, for example, allows forward planning for nature and people to adapt to change and for measures to be put in place to find space for those that may be displaced by or benefit from the effects of these changes.

Natural ecosystems such as peatbogs, flood plains, saltmarsh, sand dunes and shingle spits can absorb and filter the forces of nature and allow a more gradual release into the wider environment.
The term “ecosystems services” is now widely used in environmental policy and recognises the contribution of natural areas and processes in providing cost effective alternatives to hard defences in many cases, acting as buffers for surrounding land and settlements and providing fantastic opportunities for people and wildlife.

Orford Ness

The LIFE project has helped bring great benefits to the wildlife on Orford Ness

Whilst these policy discussions might seem a bit dry, (even when talking about water!) the main thing for me is to see the way joined up thinking can benefit so many different things, such as fen orchids, swallowtail butterflies and bitterns in the Broads, avocets at Titchwell and in the Alde-Ore estuary and stone curlew and bees on farmland and heaths across the country.

Our partners in Europe share this vision of working with nature – from coastal lagoons in Italy to river catchments in Spain, sand dunes in the Netherlands, peat bogs in Sweden and sustainable urban drainage schemes in Finland.

We’ve been blogging about the LIFE Alde-Ore Future for Wildlife project since it began and you can find out more here: www.lifealdeore.org

Alde-Ore Future for Wildlife

Alde-Ore Future for Wildlife is a project helping to provide long term improvements to the management of National Trust Orford Ness and RSPB Havergate Island for birds and habitats of European importance.
With the support of the EU’s LIFE+ programme, we are improving water management and reducing disturbance on this part of the Suffolk coast for the benefit of wildlife, habitats and landscape.

The four-year project started in April 2010 and we are already seeing fantastic results from the completed works.

We’ve had great support from many local organisations and have been grateful for their input. These include, New Orford Town Trust, the Orford and Gedgrave PC, Orford and Slaughden sailing clubs, Aldeburgh Yacht Club, the Alde and Ore Associaiton, the Alde Ore Esturay partnership, the Regardless, Orford Ness Angling Club, RSPB, Natural England, Inland Fisheries and Conservation Authority, fishermen, water skiers and other river users.

A working group has been formed and a code of practice has been published, and finally we have installed a series of signs at designated crossing points along the Southern spit. Please look out for the posts on the river shore.
Thank you to those who attended the discussions and helped us formulate our plans, in
particular the members of the working group who helped with the format and distribution of the code of practice: Mike Pearce (NOTT), James Robinson (OSC), Dick Murphy, Hugh Pilkington (OGPC), Alison Andrews (AOA), Kim Tester, Peter West (Regardless), Martin
Waters (ONAC) and Keith Martin (AYC), Sheena Barrow (OSC), Alan Garnham (IFCA), Emma Hay (NE).
Copies of the code of practice are available from our quay office, Philip Attwood the quay
warden, or can be viewed on our website.

We’ve been blogging about the project since it was first started and you can find out more about the project and read the blog at www.lifealdeore.org.uk