All flocking to leisure island

PUBLISHED: 15:16 17 August 2001 | UPDATED: 10:26 03 March 2010

THIS weekend bird-watchers and nature-lovers will be heading for the town of Orford, bidding to visit the beautiful and undisturbed Havergate Island as part of a four-day event.

THIS weekend bird-watchers and nature-lovers will be heading for the town of Orford, bidding to visit the beautiful and undisturbed Havergate Island as part of a four-day event.

Known to twitchers as the Island of the Avocet, this is an attraction laden with beauty and history, as feature writer Debbie Watson, and photographer John Kerr discovered.

TUCKED discreetly beneath a blanket of summery mist, Suffolk's island treasure begins to open its eyes.

Untouched, untainted, she wallows in a unique and romantic isolation.

Havergate is about to bask in the glorious morning sunshine from her cherished position at the far east stretch of the British Isles.

Peaceful and so serene, she waits patiently as the slow, steady vessel slips alongside her and nestles into a curve of her body. Once again, she is set to share her magic.

Here at the southern edge of Orford town, Havergate Island is a miraculous piece of Mother Nature's greatest work.

Lovingly created by the river which surrounds her, she stares out upon an historic piece of easterly coastline, and smiles at her neighbouring contours of land.

And today, just as she has done so many times before, this beautiful and little-known jewel is welcoming a curious intrusion. She will open the book on the secrets she shares with so few.

Under foot, Havergate has still not shaken off the early morning dew, but yet those pearl-like droplets seems to add to her beauty.

All around, the scent of sea lavendar captures the air, and the constant rhythmic sound of crickets begins to signal our arrival.

This is the island that realized its birth more than 500 years ago inside the River Ore. With time, tidal changes had brought together two distinct pieces of marsh at a point some way between the mainland and the shingle bank.

She is steeped in history, in nature, in beauty, and in the many remarkable sea-farers' legends which have formed suggestively over the passing years.

"There are all sorts of stories about who has been here, what she stood for, and how she developed," said warden, Ian Paradine.

"That's part of her attraction, and a reason that we want Havergate to be so carefully preserved and appreciated."

Ian has just recently taken on the task of cherishing and caring for the Havergate legend on behalf of the RSPB.

He brings small visiting groups out to the island to enjoy her charm, and, in the main, to talk to them about the phenomenol bird-life for which the island is now famed.

As he paints the pictures that led to this modern treasure, he re-tells yarns that must surely have been repeated the region, the country – and most probably, the world over.

Most of these stories emanate from generations past. It is said that here, on this 267 acre site, Havergate played host to various opportune smugglers – and that they even found shelter in a cottage here.

"The cottage is now long gone," explained Ian. "And there is even talk that there may have been another home here at one point, but all we are sure of, is that the island became a useful farming ground."

Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, it is understood that cattle was farmed on the site, and that the grazing use of Havergate was maintained well into the 1930s.

"The farmers used to swim the cattle over to the island to begin with, and then in time, they turned to the use of a barge.

"It was ideal in some respects," said Ian, "but after a while the island was recognized for its business potential and an attempt was made to make it profitable."

This 'attempt' saw a gravel company step on to Havergate and try to use it for large amounts of money-making extractions.

Installations of heavy machinery inevitably proved too much for the small cottage, bringing about its collapse – and that of the business empire.

No doubt this turnaround was seen as a crying shame for those who were trying to capitalise on the natural treasure of Havergate – but ultimately it helped the island – and Suffolk – on its way to the most remarkable of finds.

Walking past the remnants of that fated gravel industry, no true Havergate admirer could ever be more thankful for a business failing.

It is then that island's true significance comes into its own.

Basking beneath the now bright morning sun, a series of small huts lay claim to this landmark's greatest attribute.

Beyond the folklore, the views and the beauty that radiate through this island – there is another mammoth reason that so many people desire a glimpse of historic Havergate.

She is, after all, the home of the avocet.

It was just two short years after the war that this rare breed made its presence known at the secluded watery beauty-spot.

The find pushed the RSPB into immediate action, and the organization bought Havergate to ensure that proper rearing could begin to take place.

It was a huge project, but the potential prospect of a flurry of avocets was just too much to resist.

"It wasn't easy getting the avocets to breed comfortably here," said Ian. "A lot of careful work went into rearing young chicks, but eventually it paid off.

"Today we can claim to have a terrific site for viewing around 100 pairs of avocets, as well as numerous other species."

Even in the winter, the beautiful avocet is happy to rest here on this Suffolk island, and to be appreciated by one and all.

Enthusiasts head to the beauty-spot from all over Britain, and the world – they are never disappointed by the sights and the sounds which greet them here at the picturesque Havergate.

And you don't have to be one of life's self-confessed 'twitchers' to be able to appreciate those beautiful and varied bird specimen.

From the sheltered resting point of one of the island's lagoon-based hides, there is a sense of sheer privilege in being able to survey the raw open landscape, and to witness nature at work.

With each passing moment another bird nestles into the marsh land or cools itself in the shallow waters – and all the time you look on, unseen.

Beyond the avocets, the oyster-catchers, the waders and the redshanks, Havergate Island enthralls its visitors with more of nature's charms.

In blissful joy, swarms of butterflies scurry about the towering plants, the song of the bush cricket echoes in your ear, and hares step out from beneath the undergroth to bask in the morning rays.

This is nature's rawest beauty quite unashamedly at its best.

Havergate Island truly is every bit the jewel that she promises to be as daylight breaks from over her head.

It is so desperately easy to see why so many people have come to adore her.

From beyond the tip of her brow, Havergate gestures back toward the castle, the church, and the mainland which make up such a fine chapter of our regional legend.

And, as you leave her behind once more, slipping further and further from her grasp by water, her magic still clings on.

This is Suffolk's very own 'island of treasures'.


nHavergate Island will be open for guided wildlife tours from Saturday 18 August to Tuesday 21 August. Boats will leave Orford Quay half hourly from 10am to 2.30pm.

Advance bookings can also be made by calling Colin Coates on 01394 385209.

nIF one man has been captured so deeply by the essence of Havergate, few would deny that it was John Partridge.

The previous island warden, and a confirmed lover of nature, he was the son of the first ever full-time RSPB warden for Havergate.

Reg Partridge took on the role after a career as a sailor, and it wasn't until 1974, on Reg's death, that John stepped in as warden.

He is a well known face around Orford, and can tell many a story about the island and its local history.

"It has been my life since I was a very small lad," said John. "I used to come out to the island with my father all the time, and I was even allowed to take 'educational' days off school to go there.

"It has made Havergate extra special to me because of all the years my family has had a part in it."

John, 57, is now the site manager for Havergate Reserves, while Ian has taken on the warden post.

"Havergate is just so peaceful compared with other reserves," said John. "It lets people escape for a day, and that's what brings people back year after year."

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