This afternoon on an exceptionally mild and sunny January day, I had the pleasure of visiting RSPB Minsmere and meeting Ian Barthorpe, Visitor Experience Officer for the reserve and a RSPB team member for 13 years.
RSPB Minsmere is located at the heart of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Natural Beauty between Southwold and Aldeburgh. It is one of Suffolk’s leading attractions, especially since the filming of BBC Springwatch in 2014 and 2015, which returns to Minsmere and our screens this May.
Having not been to Minsmere since I was a school girl, my memories of it were fuzzy to say the least, but on arrival, I realised that things have definitely changed. I parked in a well sign-posted and well maintained car park with excellent disabled and child-friendly spaces, and was greeted warmly at the Visitor Centre by a friendly-faced volunteer, one of many that the reserve relies upon to deliver a first class visitor experience.
Ian was keen to emphasise that RSPB Minsmere is not just a bird reserve – it’s a nature reserve and is here for everyone to enjoy. Since its opening in 1947, 4500 species have been recorded at Minsmere, 350 of which are birds. The RSPB has worked incredibly hard over recent years to communicate this message and encourage everyone, not just avid birdwatchers to come and enjoy the natural wonders that Suffolk has to offer.
I was delighted by how well equipped for families Minsmere is. There are three easy to follow trails, ranging from 1.5km (1 mile) long to 3.4km (2 miles) and children are welcomed into the various hides that overlook ‘The Scrape’. There is a fabulous Wild Wood Adventure area where budding Bear Grylls can build a den or find minibeasts, and the Wild Zone is a delightful play area, inspired by nature where children can play at being a bittern or explore the sand martin’s tunnels. For the adults there are ‘sky-watching’ chairs, perfect for summer days.
And of course, no visitor centre would be complete without an excellent café and shop. I enjoyed a lovely coffee and was sorely tempted by the cheese scones, but remembered my new year’s resolution just in time!
During my visit the talk of the day amongst the visitors I overheard was of short-eared owls, and there was great excitement at the sighting of three beautiful spoonbills, a very rare sight for this time of year and one that I was lucky enough to see for myself.
The enthusiasm of Ian and the volunteers I met during my visit was infectious and what helps to make RSPB Minsmere a truly wonderful place to visit. I will definitely be back with the family very soon.
The car park, hides and countryside walks are open from dawn to dusk every day, except Christmas Day and Boxing Day, while the Visitor Centre and Shop are open from 9am until 5pm February to October and 9am until 4pm November to January.
Admission prices are £8 for adults, £4 for children (under 19), under 5’s free, students £5.50.
If you’re not local and want to visit Minsmere as part of a short break or holiday, here at Suffolk Secrets we have some fabulous holiday cottages within easy reach of the reserve. We have even negotiated a special offer for Suffolk Secrets customers; One adult or up to three children go free with any full paying adult, only available with a ‘Suffolk Club’ voucher. Here are just a few of the lovely holiday homes near Minsmere.
Scotts Hall Cottage is located within the reserve and sleeps 6 in 2 x double and 2 x single rooms. Its bright, modern and ideal for families or groups of adults.
Briar Cottage in nearby Westleton, sleeps 3 but is ideal for couple wishing to explore the wonderful habitats of Suffolk.
2 Nil Desperandum is a character-filled cottage with luxury at heart. Ideal for small families.
Lily Cottage is a stylish family-friendly cottage brimming with character.
You can see a full list of all of our cottages near Minsmere here.