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The Suffolk coast and what makes it so special

PUBLISHED: 11:44 12 July 2016 | UPDATED: 11:44 12 July 2016

Felixstowe Ferry

Felixstowe Ferry

© Tony Pick 2007

Simon Amstutz, AONB manager, replies to a frequently asked question about Suffolk’s much loved heritage coast and discovers it’s quite a list . . .

HavergateHavergate

As the manager of a small publicly funded staff team that works on the Suffolk Coast I am often asked what is so special about the area and why does it demand special attention? The rather dry answer is that much of the area is nationally designated as one of our finest landscapes, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, that public bodies and other statutory undertakers have a responsibility to ‘conserve and enhance’ while carrying out their duties.

I have learnt over the years that this response closes down conversations more quickly than discussing any minor ailments I may have, so what is the Suffolk Coast?

I think the answer depends on who you ask. For some it brings back fond memories of holidays. For many it is simply home. Others will remember seeing some of the outstanding wildlife that inhabits the area – indeed many millions have been introduced to, or reminded of that wildlife through the brilliant Springwatch programme. Those who live or simply visit the area often talk fondly about the times they have spent walking or riding around the coast, and some of the fantastic food and drink with which they have replenished themselves. For some the food and drink takes precedence over the walking and riding. For others it is the history and heritage of the area that reveals itself, sometimes slowly, such as the archaeology, but sometimes dramatically too. Think of the military structures on Orford Ness or the Martello towers that watch over the coast.

I recently took part in a ‘Mega Challenge Walk’ as part of the fantastic Suffolk Walking Festival. The walk entailed walking the 60 miles of the Suffolk Coast Path in 24 hours and gave me and my 20 fellow walkers a real insight into some of the best the area has to offer, and into what damage you can do to your feet in that amount of time. Talking to the walkers during the walk, whose efforts I should note raised over £6,000 for charity, was the sheer enjoyment taken from the landscapes we were travelling through. Of course, there were the highlights of hearing nightingales in the woodland, seeing red deer grazing, watching the sun come up over the Alde and Ore estuary to the cacophony of the dawn chorus, and the very generous hospitality of Southwold Pier, The Ship at Dunwich, The Thorpeness Dolphin, The Froize at Chillesford, The Boathouse Café at Bawdsey and Landguard Point Café. But it was the Suffolk Coast landscape that literally provides the backdrop to everything that is so special about the area.

Simon Amstutz, far left in the big hat, at the start of the Suffolk Walking Festival Mega Challenge coast walkSimon Amstutz, far left in the big hat, at the start of the Suffolk Walking Festival Mega Challenge coast walk

The idea of enjoying these landscapes appeals to many. This may be spending a day on one of the fantastic beaches in the traditional manner such as a game of beach cricket, lazing around reading and gossiping with friends and family and the brave taking a quick dip in the sea. The range of beaches is world class, with something for everyone from the sandy delights of Lowestoft, to the remoteness of Covehithe, the traditional pleasures of Southwold, the internationally important shingle habitats at Orford Ness and wildlife interest in the areas estuaries.

Others take a different approach to enjoying the area by walking or riding through it on one of the many self-guided routes. The Sailors Path, linking Snape Maltings to Aldeburgh, has proved a particular favourite for many as it runs through so many different types of landscape – woodland, heathland, marsh and farmland. It has outstanding views of the impact of the December 2013 storm and the seawall breach at Hazelwood Marshes, which has changed the landscape so much and reminds us all that Suffolk’s is a constantly evolving and changing coastline.

For some the idea of gently walking and riding does not appeal and the need for a greater adrenalin rush that can be achieved from the dinghy sailing, kite surfing and single track off-road mountain biking opportunities the area has to offer.

For those who seek to engage with nature, the opportunities to see such a diverse range of wildlife are unparalleled. It comes from the range habitats on offer on the Suffolk Coast and the fact that many are adjacent to each other providing rare transitions. I have only seen the direct transition from Saltmarsh to Shingle beach in one place and that was on the Suffolk Coast. Many of these important habitats, be they heathland, marsh, woodland, saltmarsh, estuarine, farmland, shingle are managed by charities such as the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, RSPB and National Trust and provide unparalleled access to superb wildlife habitats. The role of the farming community, where land is often managed for multiple benefits, should not be underestimated. The landscapes we see and enjoy today owe so much to the toil of farmers over many centuries, as does much of the food we enjoy both locally and via the supply chains that stock the national supermarkets.

Sandlings heathSandlings heath

So what is the Suffolk Coast? It is an outstanding landscape that offers opportunities for many people, whether their interest is history, walking, riding, food and drink, beaches, a place to live or a place to work. We in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty team commissioned a piece of work to understand what the value of tourism is on the coast – £192 million per year is the answer – but also what is the value to our health and well-being? Perhaps we will never know, but I am certain that if we were to lose the area’s natural beauty it would be a great loss. So let’s use that national designation of Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to keep this place for us and future generations to enjoy.

For more information about what to do and where to go visit www.suffolkcoastandheaths.org

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