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Ipswich's River Orwell is a haven for wildlife - just a short walk from town centre

PUBLISHED: 14:46 04 February 2017 | UPDATED: 15:12 04 February 2017

Birds on the weir of the River Orwell in Ipswich.

Birds on the weir of the River Orwell in Ipswich.

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Talk of a new riverside development and work on the Upper Orwell Crossing has turned the spotlight clearly on Ipswich's river.

017 NB Birds around low tide on the River Orwell, Ipswich. Little egret.017 NB Birds around low tide on the River Orwell, Ipswich. Little egret.

This has prompted comments that the tidal River Orwell passing under the Princes Street and Sir Bobby Robson bridges is muddy and dirty – but it is actually a haven for wildlife, especially birds.

At low tide you can see birds in the heart of the town that you would normally only expect to see at reserves like Minsmere or on quiet estuaries.

And when the river is at high tide different species can be seen – even occasional seals will stray up the river.

A shopping trolley dumped in the River Orwell doesn't appear to put off the birds.A shopping trolley dumped in the River Orwell doesn't appear to put off the birds.

During a short walk at low tide we saw a redshank, oystercatchers, swans, coots, moorhens, various gulls and a little egret – Ipswich is believed to be the first large town in Britain where little egrets have set up home after they arrived about 10 years ago. They are now a common sight between the weir beside West End Road.

There may be rubbish seen in the river at low tide – old supermarket trollies, cycles, traffic cones, even a sunk boat in the New Cut – but the wildlife does not seem to worry about that.

The Suffolk Wildlife Trust recognises the value of the River Orwell in the town.

017 NB Birds around low tide on the River Orwell, Ipswich. Oystercatcher.017 NB Birds around low tide on the River Orwell, Ipswich. Oystercatcher.

James Meyer, the Trust’s senior conservation planner, said: “This stretch of river is designated as a County Wildlife Site for its ornithological importance.

“The open water of this site during the winter months is very important for large numbers of many species of waterbirds. Regularly rare and scarce species such as Slavonian grebe, smew and great northern diver occur.

“When inland fresh water sites freeze over, this site becomes even more important when, for example, more than 100 great-crested grebes may be present.”

017 NB Birds around low tide on the River Orwell, Ipswich. Redshank.017 NB Birds around low tide on the River Orwell, Ipswich. Redshank.

The Orwell’s value is not confined to the town itself: “The County Wildlife Site is extremely valuable and complements a stretch downstream of the Orwell Bridge which is designated for its international populations of wintering waterbirds.”

Birds seen on the Orwell in town include: red throated diver, great northern diver, great-crested grebe, red-necked grebe, Slavonian grebe and black necked grebe, shag, cormorant, mute swan, shelduck, mallard, teal, wigeon, tufted, pochard, pintail, smew and goldeneye ducks and red-breasted merganser.

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