Havergate Island

Havergate Island

Havergate Island
Welcome to the Havergate community group. Havergate is a magical place, Suffolk’s only island! The reserve is nestled within the Alde & Ore estuary and is well known for its year round bird spectacle.

Havergate Island

  • A gulp of cormorants...

    I fear we have now reached that time of the year again where we have to huddle in the hides with our flask of coffee and wear 3 layers plus hats, scarfs and gloves. However, it is always worth it as it can be the best time of year to see the stunning wildlife that is out there. 

    We managed a full island count this week just in time for our visitor trip on Saturday to give anyone visiting an idea of what they might see. The count included record numbers of Cormorants (quite a spectacle) a lovely flock of Avocet and smaller birds to look out for like the rock pipit, skylarks and reed buntings. 

    Cormorant –930,  

    Wigeon – 294,  

    Gadwall – 26 

    Teal – 144 

    Pintail – 17 

    Shoveler – 108 

    Marsh Harrier  

    Hen harrier (female) 

    Avocet – 525 

    Ringed plover – 43 

    Grey plover – 62 

    Lapwing – 5 


    Dunlin – 212 

    Turnstone – 20 

    Black tailed godwit – 174 

    Curlew – 13 

    Redshank – 209 

    Rock pipit - 5 

    Great black backed gull – 74 


    And for those gull enthusiasts out there 

    Yellow legged gull – 6 

    Caspian gull – 2 

    Also this week –the work party continued working on dismantling the old hut and building the new hide which we hope to have up and running in the new year. On the boat heading to the island with the workparty team we had a female Eider duck on the river and spotted our first female Hen harrier of the season. Now I am just waiting for the Short eared owls to start making an appearance.  




  • Update from Havergate

    We were very lucky and had a lovely mild and calm day last week for our weekly work party on Havergate Island. We are making the most of these days as we know it is only going to get colder from now onwards and as you can imagine, it can get very wild out on the island! 

    As you can see from the picture below the team are cracking on removing one of our old huts which was damaged in the 2013 tidal surge. This hut removal is one of the last major bits of work we need to do since the surge which damaged a number of our hides and buildings. However, rather than wasting the wood from the hut the team decided to salvage the good bits, re-use them and create a new hide.

    Carefully dismantling the old accommodation hut….

    And reusing the panels…

    This new hide will provide great views across Cottage Flood lagoon and also give you a glimpse of Belpers lagoon. All going well and the weather being kind to us we hope to have the new hide up and running in the new year. 

    If you would like visit Havergate our events page has now been updated with upcoming events. These events include general visits to Havergate, guided Hare events to see the famous brown hares, a Winter Wildfowl guided walk and a new early morning visit to Havergate for photography enthusiasts so take a look on our webpage rspb.org.uk/havergateisland. 

  • Bygone Years

    Lyndsey is having technical problems this week, so she has asked me to post this for her

    Havergate lays claim to being Suffolk’s only island. It boasts a colourful history which spans centuries and attracts visitors - both avian and human - to its shingle shores each season.

    The island’s association with people goes back about 500 years and throughout that time Havergate has been managed, farmed and shaped by its human inhabitants and visitors.

    Havergate was formed as nearby Orford Ness expanded southwards, causing sediment to settle and build up at the mouth of the Butley River. The elements of Butley River, the River Ore and the ever-changing weather has ensured the landscape has continuously changed, but, as it grew from the settled sediment and vegetation established, the island has remained an established constant in this varied and beautiful environment.

    Belper's lagoon in the autumn

    Before 1949 and Havergate’s association with the RSPB, the island was farmed by local marsh keepers.

    Recognising Havergate’s rich and silty soil and its potential to grow crops, the marsh keepers constructed walls and embankments to prevent flooding by the tides that for so long had swept over the island. The marsh keepers inhabited the island and later introduced livestock, which ensured the site was constantly grazed.

    The island remained inhabited until the 1920s but the cattle were now only summer visitors to Havergate. Amazingly, the animals were swum over at low tide! Thankfully for the cattle, a barge was eventually constructed to ferry them over.

    Havergate ceased to be farmed some time in the early 1920s but it wasn’t long before the island’s potential was recognised yet again. This time, a gravel company moved onto Havergate and attempted to extract one of the island’s plentiful resources - shingle. The shingle was moved down to the shore in railway buggies powered by electricity and was transferred onto Thames barges. In fact, the remains of the extraction pits, tracks and some buggies can still be seen on the island!

    An old metal wheel slowly being consumed by nature

    Many people who have visited Havergate Island will have seen the remains of the old cottage. It was in this cottage in which the generator that supplied the electricity for the railway buggies stood. Unfortunately, the vibrations of the generator were too much for the cottage to take and the building eventually disintegrated into ruins.

    Throughout the Second World War Havergate Island was left unattended and it is believed that this resulted in the failure of the sluices that had been installed to prevent the island from flooding and being reclaimed by the tide. The walls and embankments eventually collapsed and this allowed the island to be flooded in several places.

    Far from being a total disaster, this resulted in perfect conditions for a bird that hadn’t bred in Britain for 100 years - the beautiful avocet. Incredibly, avocets were discovered nesting on the island, which led to the RSPB purchasing Havergate in 1949. This was the beginning of a new chapter in Havergate Island’s colourful history.

    Avocet by Jon Evans

    Reg Partridge was appointed as the island’s first warden and promptly began the task of rebuilding the river walls and creating the lagoons that can now be seen today and which are enjoyed by a wide variety of wildlife, including wetland bird species such as avocets, spoonbills, curlews and many others.

    Throughout the 68 years since the RSPB purchased Havergate, the island and its management has changed and grown with the times, to support the different and increasing number of species that rely on it for a home or resting or feeding place.

    On October 21, visitors who have arrived on the island in the RSPB boat October Storm will be able to see the remains of the old Havergate cottage, hear how the gravel company shaped the island and learn more about the site’s rich history. Perhaps some stories will be told about how the old marsh keepers lived in such a remote place. The special Bygone Years on Havergate tour will be led by RSPB volunteers Davene and Steve Everett, who are well known specialists guides who often show visitors the delights of the RSPB’s famous Minsmere nature reserve.

    It’s now more important than ever that the public and the RSPB support and look after Havergate as many species rely heavily on the island and its rich ecosystem to survive and thrive. With stronger tides and fiercer storms each year, another chapter of Havergate Island’s history is being written. We should all enjoy and support the island and you can do so by booking onto one of the visitor trips that regularly go out there throughout the year. This will help ensure this beautiful island in Suffolk’s River Ore, just south of Orford, remains to be enjoyed by generations of humans and animals to come!

    For booking details and more information on the Bygone Years of Havergate tour, or other trips to the island, visit rspb.org.uk/havergateisland or call RSPB Minsmere on 01728 648301.