Spring's sharp arrival in the county

PUBLISHED: 15:37 23 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:04 20 February 2013

Spring's sharp arrival in the county

Spring's sharp arrival in the county

David Falk, Countryside Manager at Suffolk County Council, follows an intoxicating path of spiny spring sunshine through Snape Warren to drink in some of Suffolk's most inspirational river views

David Falk, Countryside Manager at Suffolk County Council, follows an intoxicating path of spiny spring sunshine through Snape Warren to drink in some of Suffolks most inspirational river views

Head for any Suffolk heathland from the wilds of Knettishall in the Brecks to the urban fringes of Kesgrave near Ipswich and youre sure to find it ganging up on the landscape. Awkward, clumpy, invasive, distinctly intimidating. Push past it on the path and itll soon let you know its there.

At Snape Warren where green woodpeckers ride the bouncy slide of sky and the world falls away to the mudflats of the River Alde, it draws itself up to its full height and hedges its bets for a bit, before scattering out in stubborn solitude or untidy scrums across the grassy heathscape. With its twisted woody limbs and barbed ways, gorse runs the risk of being dismissed as some unsightly throw-back. Dare to consider a little closer and, particularly in the early spring when the Warren is chittering all the more with stonechats, natures Quasimodo of shrubs displays its true, loving colours in more ways than one.

When the gorse is out of bloom, kissings out of fashion...the gorses occasional pea-flower blossom of brightest yellow brings a smattering of feel-good sunshine even on the darkest winter days. Fortunately, the time-honoured saying confirms that year-round flowering is not just some recent result of global warming. Come the first sniff of spring when our wildlife is getting appropriately matey, the common gorse flares up and breaks out in a distinctly unaggressive riot of colour, filling the lightly chilled air with the smooth, heady scent of coconut liqueur and aspiring to a bright cocktail of Caribbean sunshine.

Look down the Warren across the rabbit-ravaged grassland and dark pads of heather and the once straggly, spiky evergreen bushes are transformed into golden cumulus clouds, scudding across the surface of the heath. From a distance at least, theyre more curvaceous than a curlews cry. Close up too though, each starburst of a petal from the downiest lime bud is soft, curled and delicate. Gorse might be a prickly character, but it certainly has its feminine side.

The Dartford warbler seems to think so too. If youve binoculars to hand and a bit of luck up your coat sleeve, you might catch a glimpse of this dark and rare, long-tailed fluff-ball perched strangely at home on a spiny Suffolk stem as it purrs its throaty song.

Follow the Sailors Path which leads from here towards Aldeburgh and theres a chance of spotting them at North Warren on the outskirts of town, or alternatively further up the coast at Dunwich Heath. Like the more prolific tits and finches, their days are spent bobbing between the gorse bushes which offer them motherly protection at nesting time, a welcome refuge during harsh weather as well as a wealth of valuable cover.

With a name like Snape Warren, youd expect to meet up with a rabbit or two on your travels. Undeterred by scratchy low branches and serious spikes, little white tails disappear into dark under-gorse chambers, great all-weather play places for sure. Here, the dry wood of dead shrub stems provide a feast for moth caterpillars too.

Gorse, it seems, is an all-round, generous, primeval provider: even humans once got in on the act with bundles of the oil-rich branches making excellent fuel for bread ovens and for fires used in the process of salt extraction from the tidal waters of the River Alde below.

And as you emerge from the woodland track that edges the heath Snape-side, or weave your way around the dark green and gold clumps to the edge of the sandy plateau, there they are the wrap-around waters and massive mudflats of the Alde, matched only by the great swathe of ever-changing Suffolk sky.

Even on the dullest of spring days, with the gorses sunshine behind you, the panorama across to Ikens tiny St Botolphs is simply immense. From the redbricks of the Britten-Pears concert hall legacy at Snape Maltings in the west to the widening Alde in the east as it wends its way towards the Ore Estuary, the vision is one of smooth and haunting tranquillity, backed up by the realisation of an all-round busy natural world.

Down on the marshes, hidden galaxies studded with precious flowers are preparing to burst into bloom to the explosive tweets of some Cetti warbler. Species after species of waders are picking up very different feet across the mudflats. And the waters ebb and flow. Like Quasimodo, nothing should be taken at face value, especially Brittens Curlew River.


Great crowns of gorse provide forage for Dartmoor ponies at New Delight Walks, an area of open access heathland on the edge of Dunwich Forest below Blythburgh that epitomises everything lumpy, bumpy and clumpy. Grazed also by sheep and bunnies galore, make sure youve got good walking boots on if heading off-piste.

Cavenham Heath National Nature Reserve borders the River Lark close to Tuddenham near Mildenhall. Here its not only the gorse flowers which are a golden attraction, so access is limited to avoid disturbing the nesting birds. Follow the heathland trail and look out for the bright yellow flashes of newly arrived wheatears, one of the earliest migrants to grace our gorse. This time of year, the black, white and grey head-markings make the males particularly handsome. Pity the same isnt true for the other golden celeb here: the slick-headed, yellow-goggled stone curlew.

Youll find a great range of countryside walks and all Suffolks heathland open access sites (including map references and guidance on how to get there) detailed on Suffolk County Councils official countryside website: www.discoversuffolk.org.uk

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