RSPB Havergate Island

RSPB Havergate Island

Image: Graham Catley

RSPB Havergate Island

Snape Holiday Cottages offer accommodation for twitchers close the RSPB Havergate Island.

RSPB Havergate Island - This small island in the River Ore is famous for its breeding avocets and terns, which can usually be seen during spring and summer. In autumn and winter, the island provides a haven for large numbers of ducks and wading birds. Havergate is also a great place to see brown hares at close range.

Access is by boat only and the boat trip to the island helps you really feel you're getting away from it all. Bird Watching Suffolk - Pre-booking is essential – please contact the RSPB Minsmere nature reserve on 01728 648281.

Opening times

Access via boat on pre-booked trips only. Boats leave Orford Quay at 10 am on first Saturday of every month (maximum 12 people). Also selected weekends for special events - see events section for details.

Entrance charges

Members £12, non-members £19. There is no child discount as the boats have limited space.

Information for dog owners

No dogs allowed, except registered assistance dogs

Bird Watching Suffolk - Star species

Our star species are some of the most interesting birds you may see on your visit to the reserve.


Watch elegant avocets 'scooping up' microscopic, aquatic life in their amazing, sickle-shaped beaks. They nest in mini colonies on the island.

Barn Owl

When the barn owls have young to feed, you could see them at any time of day as they scour the grassland for small voles and shrews to take back to their nest.
Barn Owl

Common Tern

Watch common terns raising their young in spring and summer. The hides provide a great opportunity to watch their fascinating courtship and the chicks growing up.
Common Tern


Pintails flock to the estuary here in autumn and winter. Look out for the elegant males and their amazing long tails.


The arrival of wheatears from March is a sure sign that spring has arrived at Havergate. Large arrivals - 'falls' - of this migrant can occur here in both spring and autumn.

Seasonal Highlights

RSPB Havergate Island - 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.


The hares on the island are most active in early spring. Wading birds and ducks display and nest on the islands in the lagoons. Flowering thrift turns the saltmarshes pink. Common terns, with a few Sandwich terns, return to breed.

Common Tern Oystercatcher Redshank Sandwich Tern
Common Tern Oystercatcher Redshank Sandwich Tern


Grassland butterflies - skippers, small coppers, wall and meadow browns and gatekeepers - are common. Migrating wading birds stop off on the lagoons to feed and roost. Wheatears can be seen on the paths and shingle in late summer.

Havergate Island - Black-Tailed Godwit Havergate Island - Dunlin Havergate Island - Turnstone Havergate Island - Wheatear
Black-Tailed Godwit Dunlin Turnstone Wheatear


Sea aster comes into flower on the saltmarshes. Numbers of winter wildfowl start to increase. Wading birds, such as spotted redshanks pass through on migration. Short-eared owls hunt for mice and voles along the river walls.

Havergate Island - Curlew Havergate Island - Sanderling Havergate Island - Short-Eared Owl Havergate Island - Spotted Redshank
Curlew Sanderling Short-Eared Owl Spotted Redshank


Numbers of wigeon, pintail and teal peak in mid-winter. Birds of prey such as short-eared owls and marsh harriers hunt over the island. Common seals can occasionally be seen in the river.

Havergate Island - Marsh Harrier Havergate Island - Pintail Havergate Island - Short-Eared Owl Havergate Island - Wigeon
Marsh Harrier Pintail Short-Eared Owl Wigeon

Wikipedia - Havergate Island

Havergate Island is the only island in the county of Suffolk, England. It is found at the confluence of the River Ore and the Butley River near the village of Orford. It is a marshynature reserve run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and is known for its population of avocets and terns. It is part of the ecologically important Alde-Ore Estuary and has protected conservation status as part of a national nature reserve, SSSI, SAC, SPA, Ramsar Site and is also a part of the Suffolk Coast and HeathsAONB.

The island, which is 2 miles (3.2 km) long and 0.5 miles (0.80 km) across at its widest point and covers 267 acres (1.08 km 2), lies in the Alder & Ore estuary and is protected from the North Sea by the shinglespit of Orford Ness. It is bounded by the river channels known locally as The Gull, Lower Gull and The Narrows.


Havergate Island comprises six salt water lagoons covering 60 hectares, surrounded by earthen banks. There are also 40 hectares of salt marsh and four hectares of vegetated shingle. There are also areas of grazing marsh and mud flats, and the site provides important habitat for rare gulls, wading birds and other species.

RSPB Havergate Island - Ecology

Adult pied avocet ( Recurvirostra avosetta) feeding on mud flats

The island is an important breeding, roosting and feeding site for many migratory and resident bird species. The UK's largest breeding population of pied avocets and Suffolk's only breeding Sandwich terns can be found there. Other birds found on the island include oystercatchers, redshanks, ringed plovers, golden plover, dunlin, greenshank and turnstones as well wigeon, pintail and wheatears. The lagoons and marshes make it an important roosting and feeding site.

Birds of prey including short-eared owls and marsh harriers have also been seen hunting over the island. Mammals on the island include mice, voles and a stable population of around 29 hares. Common seals have also been spotted in the river around the island. Butterfly species commonly found on the island include skippers, small coppers, wall and meadow browns and gatekeepers.

Access and facilities

RSPB Havergate Island - Access and Facilities

A bird hide at Dove Point on the southern end of the island

The island and nature reserve is only accessible by boat from Orford quay and only at certain times and dates. Prior booking is required for access, and group bookings can be made. The RSPB charge a fee to enter the nature reserve, with a reduced fee for members. Havergate Island is near to the Suffolk Coast Path, a long-distance footpath, and to Route 1 of the Sustrans National Cycle Network and bus Route 160 from Ipswich to Orford.

Facilities on the island include a number of bird hides, toilets and a picnic area. Guided tours are also available. The site is unsuitable for wheelchair or pushchair users due to the unimproved nature of its paths and boat access.


Havergate Island was first walled for land reclamation around 500 years ago and for much of its history has been used for farming. It was used as arable land and for grazing cattle, and at times for smuggling; the last inhabitants left the island at the end of the 1920s. In the 1930s it was used for summer grazing and in 1933 a gravel company set up shingle extraction on the island but this was found to be unprofitable and they soon left. During World War II the military took control of the island along with Orford Ness. Without human intervention during this time salt water flooded parts of the island making it unsuitable for agricultural use.

In 1947 pied avocets were found on the island, as well as at nearby Minsmere, for the first time in the UK since they had gone extinct over 100 years before. A number of pairs bred that year on Havergate Island and raised 8 chick between them. Following this discovery the RSPB purchased the island in 1948 and have since managed it for the benefit of birds and the environment.

Book Now
You're running a web browser we don't fully support. Please upgrade it for a better experience.
Our site works best with Google Chrome.
How to upgrade the browser