Image: Chris Gomersall
Snape Holiday Cottages offer birding accommodation close to RSPB Minsmere.
There's so much to see and hear at Minsmere: splendid woodland, wetland and coastal scenery, rare birds breeding and calling in on their migrations, shy wildlife like otters, the booming call of bitterns in spring, beautiful bugs and colourful wild flowers in summer.
Whenever you visit, you'll find plenty to enjoy. Choose an idyllic walk or head to the coastal lagoons to see and impressive variety of birds. Be sure to keep an eye on the reedbeds too. Maybe you'll catch a glimpse of a shy otter?
Stop to chat to our friendly staff and volunteers. They're here to help you. Find out more in our visitor centre, treat yourself in the RSPB shop or enjoy a meal cooked using local Suffolk produce in the café. There's an exciting Discovery Centre and Wild Zone for families, and guided walks throughout the year.
The car park, hides and countryside walks are open from dawn to dusk every day, except 25 and 26 December.
The visitor centre and shop are open daily 9 am-5 pm from February-October, and 9 am-4 pm between November - January. The café is open 9.30 am-4.45 pm from February-October, and 10 am-3.30 pm from November-January.
Entry to the visitor centre is free for all. To visit the countryside walks, Wild Zone and hides is free for RSPB members and RSPB Wildlife Explorers. Non-member adults £8, children (under 19) £4, Under 5s free, students £5.50, family offer: one child free with two paying adults.
If you are new to birdwatching...
Our volunteer guides are often on hand to help visitors to spot some of Minsmere's special wildlife. The birdwatching hides provide excellent opportunities to see wildlife at close range throughout the year. There are guided walks available throughout the year.
Information for families
Bring the family and discover nature together in our Wild Zone and Wild Wood Adventure. The Wild Zone has many fun activities including a play tree and the chance to become a bittern or a sand martin. In the Wild Wood Adventure you can build a den or seek and find minibeasts. Younger children will love our special Riverwatch Hide. Don’t forget the Wildlife Lookout either, where you can see some of Minsmere’s special birds. Also, keep an eye out for for seasonal activities. You can hire a Wildlife Explorer backpack with binoculars, bug box, spotter guides and more for £3 (one per family).
Information for dog owners
We are sorry, but no dogs are allowed on the nature trails or in hides, except assistance dogs. There are a limited number of shaded car parking places available for dog owners on a first come, first served basis - please ask at reception on arrival. Dogs are allowed around the visitor centre and car park only. Dogs cannot be taken on guided walks. Dogs are, however, welcome on public rights of way that cross the reserve, including a 5 mile circuit around the reserve perimeter, but these are not accessible from the main car park. Dogs are also welcome on Open Access land on Westleton Heath, if kept on a lead.
Our star species are some of the most interesting birds you may see on your visit to the reserve.
AvocetThe famous scrape hosts a large colony of avocets and these can be seen at close quarters from the hides overlooking this impressive man-made wetland from early spring to autumn.
Bearded titBearded tits can be seen flitting over the reeds as you walk along the North Wall, the path along the west side of the scrape and from Island Mere and Bittern Hides all year-round.
BitternMinsmere holds a sizeable proportion of the UK population of bitterns. Visit in spring to hear them 'booming' or summer to watch the parents making feeding flights. Bittern Hide and Island Mere Hide offer a great chance of a sighting.
Marsh harrierThe extensive reedbeds play host to several breeding marsh harriers. The elevated Island Mere and Bittern Hides will reward you with excellent views. They can now be seen here throughout the year.
NightingaleNightingales can be heard singing in the deciduous woodland in spring. Their performance is best early in the morning or in the evenings - but they do of course sing through the night!
Each season brings a different experience at our nature reserves. In spring, the air is filled with birdsong as they compete to establish territories and attract a mate. In summer, look out for young birds making their first venture into the outside world. Autumn brings large movements of migrating birds - some heading south to a warmer climate, others seeking refuge in the UK from the cold Arctic winter. In winter, look out for large flocks of birds gathering to feed, or flying at dusk to form large roosts to keep warm.
Ducks begin to leave in March and the first wading birds move through on their way north. Avocets and Mediterranean gulls return to breed among the black-headed gull colony on the Scrape, followed in mid April by the first common terns. Look for the dramatic switchback display flights of marsh harriers above the reedbeds and listen for deep booming call of the elusive male bittern. In the woods, listen for the beautiful songs of nightingales and various warblers or drumming great spotted woodpeckers. Sand martins return to nest outside the café and the first dragonflies emerge in late April. Look for Dartford warblers and woodlarks on the heath, or a basking adder, fresh from hibernation.
|Avocet||Bittern||Great Spotted Woodpecker||Marsh Harrier|
Look for young avocets, common terns and gulls on the Scrape. The first spotted redshanks, ruffs and other wading birds begin to return from the Arctic from late June. Bitterns are often easiest to see on their feeding flights, as they bring food back to their hungry chicks. Young marsh harriers flap hesitantly over the reeds. Look for an excellent variety of butterflies and dragonflies flitting, dashing and buzzing around the reserve. Hobbies may hunt the dragonflies above the reedbeds. Rare plants such as yellow horned-poppy flower on the dunes, where little terns sometimes nest in a specially fenced enclosure. The heaths turn a stunning purple as the heather begins to flower, while nightjars churr at dusk, when you may spot a glow-worm too.
|Bearded Tit||Bittern||Little Tern||Ruff|
Migration is in full swing with a continuous stream of birds passing through. Wading birds on the Scrape may include curlew sandpipers, little stints or ruffs, and perhaps a rare visitor from North America. Duck numbers increase as first the teals, then other species return. Brent geese may head south offshore from late September, and the Bewick’s swans may arrive in late October. Calm mornings are a great time to spot bearded tits in the reedbed. Kingfishers are most easily seen. Flocks of starlings or marsh harriers may gather at dusk. The red deer rut is the star attraction on the heath during October.
|Bearded Tit||Bewick's Swan||Little Stint||Starling|
Large flocks of ducks gather on the Scrape and grazing marshes, with teals and wigeons most numerous. Look for Bewick’s swans, smews and goldeneyes among them. Birds of prey may include marsh and hen harriers, peregrines, barn or short-eared owls. Otters are occasionally seen on Island Mere or reedbed pools. The visitor centre feeders attract large flocks of tits and finches. Woodcocks are sometimes seen during cold weather. Large flocks of red-throated divers and great crested grebes can be seen offshore.
|Bewick's Swan||Goldeneye||Great Spotted Woodpecker||Red-Throated Diver|
RSPB Minsmere is a nature reserve owned and run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) at Minsmere in the English county of Suffolk. It lies on the North Sea coast around 6 miles (9.7 km) south of Southwold and 7 miles (11 km) north of Aldeburgh within the Suffolk Coast and HeathsArea of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the Suffolk Heritage Coast area. It is protected with SSSI, SAC, SPA and Ramsar Site conservation status.
The 9.69-square-kilometre (3.74 sq mi) site was established in 1947 and covers areas of reed bed, lowland heath, lowland wet grassland, and shingle vegetation. The nature reserve is recognised for its high diversity of bird species and other wildlife and is used as a demonstration of successful reed bed management. It is known as one of the UK's premier birdwatching sites.
The Minsmere reserve includes 1.79 square kilometres (0.69 sq mi) of reed bed habitat, representing 3.6% of the UK's reed beds, as well as areas of open water, lowland heath, grassland, scrub, woodland, dune and shingle vegetation. The reserve is an important breeding, roosting and feeding site for many bird species with over 100 resident species and around a further 240 species of migratory visitors being recorded at the site.
Up to 30% of the UK's breeding population of great bittern are to be found at Minsmere. It is also of particular conservation importance for its populations of western marsh harrier, pied avocet, Savi's warbler, bearded reedling and reed bunting.
The Minsmere crimson underwing, first found in the UK at Minsmere in 2004
Heathland areas are particularly important for populations of Dartford warbler and antlion and woodland areas are important for common nightingale populations. Other species found at Minsmere include adders, otter, water vole and one of the largest herds of red deer in England.
Over 1000 species of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) have been recorded at Minsmere. The 32 recorded butterfly species include the silver-studded blue, the Camberwell beauty and the Queen of Spain fritillary. In September 2004 the moth species Catocala_conjuncta, previously unrecorded in Britain, was found on the reserve. To acknowledge its place of capture it was given the common name Minsmere crimson underwing.
Access and facilities
One of the bird hides at Minsmere RSPB reserve.
The reserve is accessible by car from the A12 via the village of Westleton. It is also connected to Route 1 of the Sustrans National Cycle Network by the Suffolk Coast Cycle route. The nearest bus access is in the town of Leiston 4 miles (6.4 km) away and rail access is in Darsham 5 miles (8.0 km) away. Coastlink, a demand responsive bus service, is available from these places to travel to the reserve but requires booking a day in advance. Minsmere reserve is also accessible on foot from Dunwich Heath, Sizewell Beach and Eastbridge, with 12 miles (19 km) of public rights of way around the reserve. Two long-distance walks, the Suffolk Coast Path and the Sandlings Walk, connect to the reserve.
Minsmere has extensive footpaths throughout the site and seven bird hides are provided for birdwatching. Some but not all of these are accessible to wheelchair and buggy users. Only assistance dogs are allowed within the reserve; all other dogs must be kept within the car park, visitors centre or on the public rights of way that surround the site. A visitors centre provides a cafe, picnic area, shop, toilets and baby-changing facilities. There is also an information centre and guided walks, binocular hire and children's 'explorer packs' are available.
Entry to the reserve is free for RSPB members and a fee is charged for non-members. The site is open daily during daylight hours, year round. The visitor centre and facilities are open from 9 am to 5 pm with some seasonal variations.