Nature reserve celebrates 60 years

As the RSPB reserve at Minsmere, in north Suffolk celebrates its diamond anniversary there is recognition that the effects of climate change could see many changes and problems over the next 60 years.

For 60 years it has played a vital role in helping rare birds to survive and now attracts more than 100,000 visitors a year.

But as the RSPB reserve at Minsmere, in north Suffolk, celebrates its diamond anniversary with a real sense of achievement, there is recognition that the effects of climate change could see many changes and problems over the next 60 years.

This weekend, though, was about celebrating Minsmere's achievements since it became an RSPB site in 1947 - one of the first nature reserves leased to the charity.

Thirty years later, the RSPB bought the site near Westleton and can now look back on six decades of conservation, which have seen more than 330 species of birds recorded, plus 23 dragonflies and damselflies, 33 butterflies, more than 1,000 species of moth and many plants.

However, it is the reserve's successes in helping rare birds to survive that have stood out and maintained its position as one of the key sites in Britain.

Avocets were absent as breeding birds in the UK for 100 years until they returned to nest at Minsmere in 1947, while bitterns and marsh harriers have also survived and flourished there.

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“It's species like this that draw such a large amount of visitors to Minsmere,” said RSPB spokesman Ian Barthorpe. “It's such a superb site where you can expect to see something of interest.”

At the heart of Minsmere is the 'scrape', which is one of the world's first artificial wetland scraped out of the marsh, while well-managed reedbeds have proved successful breeding grounds for bitterns and marsh harriers, as well as mammals such as otters and water voles.

However, there is a growing realisation that climate change will lead to further flooding, with coastal sites such as Minsmere eventually succumbing to permanent infiltration by saltwater.

Last November, Minsmere experienced a near-miss when floodwater threatened its coastal defences and Mr Barthorpe added: “In the long-term climate change is going to be a big challenge for us. We are confident that we will be able to protect Minsmere in the short to medium term, but in the long term we don't know what is in store.

“The Environment Agency is looking at various schemes to protect Minsmere for the long-term, but we have to look for alternative habitats in the event that Minsmere's freshwater habitat is lost to the sea.”

Over the weekend, visitors enjoyed free entry and were given the opportunity to take part in guided walks and pond-dipping. Also present were the family of Betty Nash, a keen supporter of Minsmere even before the RSPB took over its management. They saw telescope and microscope bought from a donation in Betty's memory.

Mr Barthorpe also thanked other groups and individuals who have raised money for the site over the years.

t RSPB Minsmere, which is signposted from the A12 at Yoxford and Blythburgh, and from Westleton village, is open daily, expect Christmas Day and Boxing Day, from 9am to dusk. The visitor centre is open from 9am to 5pm (4pm from November to January).