Getting to know the Ness

Each year, Suffolk’s Touching the Tide scheme funds a graduate trainee to work with them and gain valuable experience as they take their first steps on the career ladder.

As part of that role, the graduate trainee each year spends time also working with the RSPB and with the National Trust at Orford Ness.
This year’s Graduate Trainee is Catherine Mercer, who has just completed a two-week placement with the ranger team here on the Ness, and here she tells us about her experience:

Catherine Mercer

Although I have spent most of the summer working as a little tern warden for the RSPB, the final two weeks of my contract have brought me to Orford Ness, to learn a bit about working with the National Trust and managing such an unusual property.
I had never visited the site before, so it was great to be given the chance to explore and learn about both the history and the wildlife found here.

My first few days involved getting to know the site and I enjoyed a personal guided tour, first of the buildings that make it so unique and interesting, and second to see some of the local birdlife.
It was during one of these drives that I was lucky enough to see a teal grabbed and then dropped by a passing peregrine falcon.
There was also time for two nights of helping with moth trapping, giving me the chance to improve my very rusty moth ID skills.

After finding my feet, I have got stuck in to all manner of work, from brush cutting marshland to helping the volunteers as they welcome and chat to visitors.
As an aspiring conservationist, I’m always on the look out to learn new things that will help me in the pursuit of a more permanent job in the conservation sector.

Catherine Mercer2

In my two weeks at Orford Ness I’ve done everything from changing my first tyre, to driving a digger and learning how to manoeuvre a boat.
The staff here have been so generous with their time, taking every opportunity to teach me something new.
After a summer monitoring little tern colonies it has been great to get back into more practical work. The two weeks have flown by and it feels all too soon to be saying goodbye to Orford Ness.

Come bye and discover life as a shepherd at the National Trust

Originally posted on National Trust in the East :

Did you know the National Trust has its own shepherd, who looks after a flock of 100 sheep on the Suffolk coast? But life is anything but quiet for Andrew Capell and his sheepdog Kite.


Andrew Capell has worked with sheep for more than 30 years and has been tending the National Trust flock at Orford Ness, Dunwich Heath and Sutton Hoo since 2010. He has a mixed group under his care, made up of White Faced Woodlands, Norfolk Horns, Portlands, Hebrideans and Manx sheep.


As well as Wendy Woodland, Andrew has names for many of the others with strong personalities. Like Mike, the Manx who – from some considerable distance – can smell a pocket of treats hidden in Andrew’s pocket and won’t stop until he’s got the first mouthful all to himself. Or like Dopey and the boys, a gang full of mischief always trying to climb over…

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We’re taking a digital voyage through sound!

A thoughtful new art and sound project will be coming to Orford Ness in the next week on its journey across some special coastal places. 

This month, a mysterious beach hut will be travelling across the UK, and taking in Orford Ness along the way.
The Ness has been chosen as one of just three places to host a very special, bright blue beach hut – but as always with Orford Ness, there is more to the beach hut than meets the eye!

Martyn Ware with the beach hut in Seaham. Picture credit: North News and Pictures Ltd

Martyn Ware with the beach hut in Seaham.
Picture credit: North News and Pictures Ltd

Inside the hut, an atmospheric sound track conjures up the sounds of the coast, whilst visitors are invited to step inside what is actually a miniature sound booth, where they can record their thoughts about what the coast means to them.

The soundtrack inside the hut will be created by leading sound artist Martyn Ware, formerly of Heaven17 and Human League, from recordings held by the British Library.
At the same time, the recordings that people make in the hut will be used by Martyn as contributions towards One and All – a digital voyage through sight, sound and sea.
One and All is a co-commission by Trust New Art, the National Trust’ contemporary arts programme, and sounduk.
Three leading artists working across sound, poetry and art will celebrate the powerful emotional and personal links that we all have to our coastal landscapes.
Martyn Ware, Owen Sheers and Tania Kovats have been invited to take inspiration from 50 years of Neptune, the National Trust’s campaign to acquire and care for coastal land.

The result will be an online digital artwork that combines audio visual and interactive landscapes.
It will invite the audience to explore a virtual coastal landscape and encounter three unique works that address our relationship with the sea.

Inspired by his childhood one-day-a-year holiday at a steelworks ‘charabanc outing’ on the Yorkshire coast, Martyn Ware’s What Does The Sea Say? will create a meditative dreamscape in which the listener can both participate and observe.

As part of the work’s creation, Martyn will travel with the beach hut to the three chosen locations.
After starting its journey in Seaham, County Durham, it will arrive with us on July 7 and stay for a week before moving on to Porthgain, Pembrokeshire.

The beach hut recordings, together with material from the British Library sound archive, will be reworked, in collaboration with film maker Ben Wigley, into a deeply resonant and emotionally affecting meditative three-dimensional soundscape about place and memory.
One and All will be available to experience online from November at

Unique mapping project to capture the sounds of our shores

Originally posted on National Trust in the East :

From the crashing of waves to the sound of children’s laughter floating on the air. The shrill of a victorious arcade machine to the wall of noise from a seabird colony; these are the sounds of our shores.


As the National Trust celebrates the 50th year of its Neptune Coastline Campaign and the 775 miles of coastline it looks after, we’ve joined forces with the British Library and the National Trust for Scotland to celebrate every inch of the coastline by creating the UK’s first ever coastal soundmap.

This week, Cheryl Tipp, Wildlife and Environmental Sounds Curator, at the British Library reveals more about the project…

Over the next three months, the project is encouraging everyone to grab their smartphones or digital recorders and head out to capture sounds from along our much-loved coastline; from the bustling beaches of Cornwall to the remote cliffs of the Scottish islands, or…

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In search of “showerheads the size of plates”

Pippa Marland is currently completing a PhD at the University of Worcester.
Earlier this spring, her work brought her to Orford Ness to visit and discover more about this ‘almost-island’.
Here, Pippa shares some of her experience of visiting the Ness and what prompted her visit.

While carrying out research for a PhD on literary representations of ‘islandness’, it has been my practice to try to visit the islands I have written about.
So it was that in mid-March I travelled to the ‘almost-island’ of Orford Ness, which features in W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn.

This work documents a walking tour of Suffolk, recounted by a narrator-figure who is, at times, overcome with horror at the ‘traces of destruction’ he finds in the landscape.
These traces are nowhere more apparent than when he reaches the Ness, with its eerie collection of abandoned military buildings and heaps of broken concrete and rusting metal.
The narrator finds himself puzzling over the enigma of the ‘beings’ who built the site as well as the purpose of “the primitive contraptions and fittings inside the bunkers, the iron rails under the ceilings, the hooks on the still partially tiled walls, the showerheads the size of plates, the ramps and the soakaways.”

Writing my chapter on Sebald, I wondered which elements of this description could be found in the actual landscape and which had been transposed onto it from elsewhere to reflect the concerns of the writer.
Coming of age in the shadow of the German war crime trials and in the midst of what he saw as the failure of the German people to acknowledge their own suffering, Sebald was haunted by the damage done to human souls by war.
When I first read his description of the Ness, the image of “showerheads the size of plates” in particular brought to my mind accounts of the ‘shower block’ gas chambers of the concentration camps. I felt convinced that this image, combined with a more generalised sense of the horror of war, was at the heart of his account.

Before my visit, I got in touch with Grant Lohoar, the Coast and Countryside manager for East Suffolk, and asked him whether there were actually any showerheads on the Ness.
He thought not, and he was right: I didn’t find any.

But as I walked into a chamber adjacent to one of the ‘pagodas’, and saw circular metal lamp shades the size of dinner plates attached to metal pipes that ran up the walls and along the ceiling, I felt sure that I had found the source of Sebald’s description.

They provided me with a kind of ‘evidence’ that while his account of Orford Ness ranges imaginatively far beyond that place, and incorporates the transposed idea of the concentration camp, it still hinges upon the real, material presences in this landscape.

I imagined that my perception of the Ness might be coloured by Sebald’s sombre description. This proved not to be the case.

Walking in the warm spring sunshine, I saw lapwings, marsh harriers, pipits, gulls, rabbits and hares. Rust was blooming everywhere on shards of metal, and yellow lichens brightened the grey of the concrete.

I felt an intense awareness of ongoing processes of life, along with a pervasive sense of peace. I discovered what an extraordinary and rewarding place Orford Ness is to visit, so rich in human and natural histories, and more than able to reveal a whole range of different meanings to anyone fortunate enough to walk its pathways.

My thanks to Grant Lohoar for welcoming me to the Ness, and for sharing with me some of his immensely detailed knowledge of the place.

We need your votes!

Orford Ness Ranger David Mason shares some exciting news for the Ness – and makes a plea for your votes too!

Vote Now!

The winter on Orford Ness is a great time for wildlife but as the days lengthen, migrants birds return to breed and lambs are born, our spirits are lifted by the sound of birdsong and bleating.

We have also been greatly cheered by the news that we have been chosen as finalists in the conservation category of the 2015 Natura 2000 awards, as partners in the ‘Alde-Ore Estuary – Securing a sustainable future for wildlife’ LIFE project.

The project transformed the water management systems in the marshes and saline lagoons at Orford Ness and RSPB Havergate Island, creating new and improved habitat for avocet, spoonbill and starlet sea anemone. It also helped to protect the fragile vegetated shingle habitats on the 10 mile long shingle spit at Orford Ness.
We have already seen that the wildlife of the two sites is thriving as a result.

The main categories at the awards are judged by an expert panel and will be announced at a ceremony in Brussels in May. The Alde-Ore Estuary project has been placed in the Conservation category.
In addition to these, there is also Citizens award which is open to all for voting.
Competition is fierce, so we would be thrilled to receive your vote!
You can easily place your vote by using this link:

Voting closes at midnight on 6th May – the night before another important election here in the UK!

Natura 2000 is the centrepiece of the European Union’s nature and biodiversity policy. Established under the EU’s Birds Directive and Habitats Directive, it is an EU-­wide network of more than 27,000 terrestrial and marine sites, covering around 18% of land area and substantial parts of the surrounding seas.

The aim of the network is to assure the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species. Functioning ecosystems protected by Natura 2000 benefit human health, society and the economy.

Natura 2000 plays an important part in the conservation of the habitats and species in the UK and particularly on the Suffolk coast where there is an extensive network of wonderful wildlife areas.
The National Trust’s Orford Ness and RSPB’s Havergate Island are part of the Alde-Ore Estuary Special Protection Area (SPA) for breeding, wintering and migrating birds under the Birds Directive, the Orfordness-Shingle Street Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for the vegetated shingle habitats and the Alde, Ore and Butley Estuaries SAC for their coastal lagoons, saltmarsh and mudflats under the Habitats Directive.

Photography tours and guided groups

In addition to our guided walks and conservation mornings, which you can find out about here, we are once again offering photography tours and the option to pre-book a walking tour.

Always popular, we’d recommend booking early for our photography tours.
These visits offer the opportunity to see the Ness in a whole new way, as you spend the day with a professional photographer and a National Trust conservation ranger, visiting various parts of the site, including the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment’s famous ‘pagodas’ and laboratories – normally out of bounds. 

Photo tours

Your guides will help you get the most out of this opportunity to get some unique shots, and to hone your skills in this rare and unusual landscape and with a maximum of 12 places on each tour, you’ll get plenty of chances to chat and ask questions.

Photography tours will be taking place on April 18, June 13, August 22 and October 17 – which of the seasons would you most like to photograph the Ness in?
We’ll take you over on our ferry boat, Octavia, at 9am and will leave the Ness on the last boat at 5pm. Wrap up warm (even in summer!) and wear sturdy shoes as you’ll be doing a lot of walking throughout the day.
The cost of these tours is £50 for National Trust members and £70 for non-members.To book your spot call 01394 450900.

As well as photography tours, we also offer the opportunity to book a guided tour of the Ness for large groups (up to a maximum of 36 people). These tours are led by one of our conservation rangers, who can tell you more about the history of the site and the rare and fragile wildlife here, and how we care for it. Available from April to June, or in October, you can book a half day tour for £13 per NT member (£18 non-member) or a full day tour for £17 per NT member (£22 non-member).

World Wetlands Day

Orford Ness Ranger David Mason takes a look at World Wetlands Day, a day that is focused on celebrating wetlands around the world.

Each year on February 2, World Wetlands Day takes place to mark the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea.

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, commonly known as the Ramsar Convention, is a global intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international co-operation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. It is the only global treaty to focus on one single ecosystem.

Orford Ness is a Ramsar site as part of the Alde-Ore Estuary designation and is a fantastic haven for wetland wildlife of all sorts, from brent geese to bryozoa, spoonbills to starlet sea anemone, wigeon to water voles.

Starlet Sea Anemone

Starlet Sea Anemone


Avocets with chicks

Avocets with chicks


Like many other Ramsar sites, Orford Ness is also protected under national schemes as a Site of Special Scientific (SSSI) and National Nature Reserve, and as part of the European Union’s Natura 2000 network.

You can find out more about World Wetlands Day on the dedicated Ramsar website.

Our opening times for 2015

Our opening times vary according to the seasons and we also regularly host special events and guided tours, so we hope you’ll find the information about our opening dates and times for 2015 useful to help plan your visit.

Tickets for our ferry boat ‘Octavia’ tend to sell out early, so we’d advise arriving early to avoid disappointment.

Here are the key dates for 2015.

  • April 4 until June 27 – open Saturdays only
  • Tuesday June 30 until Saturday September 26 – open Tuesdays to Saturdays
  • October 3 until October 31 – open Saturdays only

The National Trust ferry boat will leave Orford Quay to take visitors over to the Ness from 10am until 2pm. The last ferry to return visitors to the Quay will be at 5pm.

Special events and guided tours

Most of our visitors enjoy a self-guided tour along our marked visitor routes and this can be done on any of our opening days, taking in the unique Orford Ness landscape.

On certain dates throughout the year there are opportunities to join us for a more in-depth visit, with guided tours to help you find out more about the history of the site, or if you are a keen photographer, we have special tours and overnight stays to help you get the perfect shot. There is an additional charge for these visits and there are limited places. We haven’t finalised the dates for the 2015 photography tours yet, but will post them as soon as we can.

On some days, we also offer the opportunity to travel around the site without having to walk the whole way – ideal for those who are unable to walk long distances. Our tractor and trailer bus will stop at key points around the site, although this not a guided tour.

Dates for your diary:

Bombs and Beasties Guided Walks:  May 16, June 20, July 11, August 15 and September 12.
Spend time with one of our ranger team and learn more about this special place, taking in the unique military history as well as the incredibly rare and fragile wildlife that call Orford Ness their home.
Booking is essential, NT members £17, non-members £22. Meet 9.30am at Orford Quay, depart approx. 4pm. Limited to 24 places.

Tractor and Trailer Bus: July 4, August 1 and September 5
A trailer bus, stopping around key points on the main trail aimed primarily at those
visitors unable to walk more than short distances. This is not a guided tour.
Booking is advised. NT Members £7.00; Non NT Members £12.00. Children under
17 half price. Under 5s free. Meet 9.55am or 1.55pm prompt at Orford Quay.
Duration approx. 3hrs. Limited to 24 places.

Moth Mornings Saturdays: July 25 and August 15
See conservation in action by spending up to an hour with volunteers from the
Landguard Bird Observatory to learn about this important part of our work.
Normal admission applies. Meet at the Rangers Office, opposite the lavatories, at 11.00am. The Rangers’ Office is 20 mins walk from the landing stage – cross on ferry by 10.20am Subject to weather.

Bird Ringing Mornings Saturdays: September 19 and October 10
See conservation in action by spending up to an hour with volunteers from the
Landguard Bird Observatory to learn about this important part of our work
Normal admission applies.Meet at the Rangers Office, opposite the lavatories, at 11.00am. The Rangers’ Office is 20 mins walk from the landing stage – cross on ferry by 10.20am. Subject to weather.

Group Visits – Club, Society, Association or just family and friends
We have options for guided or self guided, pedestrian or vehicular tours throughout
the year for parties of 12 to 24. Subject to availability. Pre-booked only.

For more information about our special events and tours, visit:

Small, but beautiful

A group of expert marine biologists have been working on the Ness lately, all in search of some very tiny members of the natural world.
Ranger David Mason explains more.

The natural world is a constant marvel and there are many wow moments when its secrets are revealed, especially when experts in a field which seems obscure, mostly because things are small or inaccessible, visit your site and reveal what lies beneath.

The latest of these moment occurred when our friends from Seasearch visited Orford Ness recently with expert marine biologists in search of Bryozoa.
What the heck are those I hear you cry! Or was that just me?
Wikipedia tells us…
‘The Bryozoa, also known as Polyzoa, Ectoprocta or commonly as moss animals,[5] are a phylum of aquatic invertebrate animals. Typically about 0.5 millimetres (0.020 in) long, they are filter feeders that sieve food particles out of the water using a retractable lophophore, a “crown” of tentacles lined with cilia. Most marine species live in tropical waters, but a few occur in oceanic trenches, and others are found in polar waters. One class lives only in a variety of freshwater environments, and a few members of a mostly marine class prefer brackish water. Over 4,000 living species are known. One genus is solitary and the rest colonial. [5] Brusca; Brusca. “21: The Lophophorate Phyla”. The Invertebrates.’

Generally speaking, Bryozoa usually look like encrustations on sticks, roots, seaweed, rocks etc, and they are prey for a variety of other marine animals like sea slugs, starfish and sea urchins.
Both underwater and under the microscope their true beauty is revealed as each cell comes to life.


“Bryozoa”, from Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur, 1904

You may have seen one of these on the beach, as Hornwrack is a colony of these creatures.

© Hans Hillewaert / CC-BY-SA-3.0

© Hans Hillewaert / CC-BY-SA-3.0

These creatures can be indicators of environmental change, and even today, species previously unrecorded in our waters are being found all the time.

Bryozoa can be so tiny that more than one species can found colonising together, such as on this piece of bladderwrack, which is home to three different species.

Along with the Natural History Museum, who will be collating the data, Seasearch have set up monitoring schemes around the country, including here on Orford Ness, to record how these species colonise sites over time.

Several of our volunteers helped the Seasearch team construct a series of monitoring stations, which use acrylic glass plates that encourage colonisation, but also can be easily viewed and monitored over time.




These stations will be located in various water bodies on the Ness and checked periodically to study what is here, and measure how long it takes for various known species to colonise the plates and when new species arrive.

This will help create baseline data for future studies to build on.