Suffolk Wildlife: Birds, Butterflies, Wild flowers and Orchids

Members were lucky to receive a talk from Mr Alex Bass, a Wildlife Tour Guide who, using a series of slides, told members about the various protected areas found in Suffolk around Minsmere, Dunwich Heath, The Blyth Estuary and the Suffolk Brecklands.

The 1,000-hectare site at Minsmere is the largest and has been managed by the RSPB since 1947 when it purchased the land from the Ogilvie Family for £240,000.

The reserve has areas of reed bed (the largest in England and formally where the peat was dug), lowland heath (where 3 types of heather grows alongside gorse), acid grassland (where a carpet of red sheep sorrel can be found in summer), wet grassland where yellow irises and the southern marsh orchid can be found), shingle and dune (home to the yellow horned poppy, stonecrop and sea kale) and the woodland area.

Maintaining the “health” of the reserve is essential and the rivers flowing into the reed beds are controlled by sluices. Sluices also help to keep the seawater away from the freshwater reed beds. Living in a similar habitat in Poland, Konik horses have been introduced to roam and graze the area, thus controlling the reeds and allowing areas of open water for other species.  Rare and endangered birds, plants and insects can be seen from the many paths that transverse the reserve and from the purpose-built viewing hides and areas.

The symbol of the RSPB is The Avocet which started its recolonisation of Britain a month after the reserve was purchased.  Its successful breeding heralded the arrival of more endangered species finding a “safe home” and thriving over the years.

The east-coast location and range of habitats makes the reserve a major site for “stop-overs” – migrating birds heading north and south; butterflies coming from as far afield as Morocco; or as a safe haven in times of bad weather when “unusual visitors” have bird watchers rushing to see them.

The American mink has now been eradicated from the area and several native species of small mammals have been reintroduced and are now thriving – all helping with the biodiversity.

Mr Bass also spoke about the history of the area – from it being mentioned in the Doomsday Book, to peat cutting in the middle ages, its monastic connections to being in the front line in WW2.  A photograph taken in the woodland area showed rows of poplar trees – these are the remnants of the trees grown by Bryant & May and used for matchsticks.

In recent years Minsmere has welcomed the BBC’s Spring and Autumn Watch Teams.  The starling murmurations highlighted in the programme are now a popular event for visitors.

The nature reserve, its habitats and wildlife, are all protected under UK law as a part of the Minsmere–Walberswick Special Protection Area. The heaths and marshes are Areas of Conservation and sites of Special Scientific Interest. The site is also included in the areas covered by the Suffolk Coast and Heaths as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is also part of the Suffolk Heritage Coast.

For birdwatchers, gardeners, ramblers and family outings this unspoilt area of Suffolk has something for everyone – including some recommended pubs!

Self-Sufficiency Throughout The Year

After searching for over three years, our guest speaker, Maike Windhorst, finally found a house with a three acre garden located between Wickford and Billericay, that would allow her to garden organically with the aim of becoming self-sufficient.

After studying the various methods of crop rotation, her first attempt, using raised beds was unsuccessful – after being undisturbed for many years the slugs and snails thoroughly enjoyed the banquet that was being grown for them – the framework of the raised beds gave them plenty of hiding holes!

So still continuing with the 4 crop rotation plan, the vegetable patch was converted to rows. Single rows at first then altered to three rows per section. A path was then introduced between the different sections.

Still studying new methods and ideas, she introduced edges to the the path row with planks joined together across the row with a “U” shaped brace. Rather than taking vegetables back to the kitchen to clean up or taking spent greenery to a compost bin, this “waste” is put straight into the area of the path ready to be covered and new crops planted into this enriched soil at the next rotation.

Then to ensure the land was always being used “quick crops” such as Lettuces, Onions, Radishes etc. were introduced.

A section of vegetables picked from her garden that day was brought along to show members the variety of crops that can be grown. She now sells her vegetables, and when in season fruit and home made apple juice, at the weekly Farmers Market in Danbury.

An extra piece of advice was given, always start with a small area and then slowly increase the growing plot. Keep the unproductive areas under grass, the clipping of which can be put into the “path compost” areas. Constant mowing will either kill or weaken most weeds making it easier to bring under production when you are ready.

Flowering Shrubs

“Flowering Shrubs” was the title of Mr George Lockwood’s talk earlier this year.

Hailing from Enfield, he pursued his love of gardening by attending courses at Capel Manor where, he admits, he managed to get his tongue around Latin Names! He cares for five gardens and is totally organic. The wide variety of flowering shrubs enables him to make each garden individual, although some plants are “too good” not to be used in them all. Using a series of slides, members were guided through Spring on size, location, flower colour, fragrance and pruning. Generous mulching and feeding is recommended. A recipe for homemade plant food was given: Using a 4pt plastic milk bottle, half-fill with chopped comfrey or nettle leaves then top up with water.

Leave at the back of the shed to ferment (usually a couple of months). When ready to use put 1cup to 5ltrs of water. Do not water the foliage but the ground around the shrub every 2/3 months throughout the summer. Make regularly thus ensuring a constant supply of plant food.

Warning: The mixture smells if you leave the lid off!!!

Evergreen shrubs are recommended to ensure continuity throughout the year. The talk ended with slides of various gardens eg. eonardslee and Wakehurst Palace where the flowering shrub displays were breathtaking.

Pin Me To The Wall & Do What You Want With Me

Now did we get your attention?

This was the intriguing title of a talk given to the Mountfitchet Garden Club by Andrew Mikolajski who entertained members with his knowledge of climbers and wall shrubs.

He gave a wealth of ideas and hints on where to position the plants, how to prune them, easy methods of attaching the plants to the walls and how to train the plants to ensure they show off their flowers were explained with great enthusiasm.

Using a series of slides, members were shown some large houses, which are open to the public, where plants have, over the years been trained to cover the buildings and garden walls.

York Gate House, near Leeds in Yorkshire, is a good example of how a pyracantha can be trained to cover a house. To reach this standard, he joked, requires patience and a lot of staff !

However by using “tricks” like pig wire gardeners are able to attach the plants and train them easily in a domestic-sized garden.

Although considered Out of Season, a visit to gardens in the winter will often show the framework and pruning methods used to achieve the summer displays. A lively Q&A session followed the talk.

What Do I Do with this Space?

This was the subject of our September speaker, Mr Darren Lerigo.

Whatever your age, everyone enjoys their personal space, and in a garden you can enjoy creating and making this space your very own.
Using a series of slides from around the world, members were shown the different “spaces” and how the individuals’ needs have been met. For example, in northern Scandinavia where they have nine months of darkness and snow followed by 24hrs of sunshine, a greenhouse was swathed in flowers of orange, red and yellow – a splash of colour.


In contrast, very little greenery was found in the Zen garden in Japan where the raked lines of stones gave the monks tranquillity and contemplativeness away from the bustle of life. A new housing estate, where the small dividing strip between drives, was transformed into a wild garden as the owner missed greenery.

Contrasting in size, even the Taj Mahal, built as a place of remembrance, was originally sited in a garden full of herbs, vegetables, flowers and trees–although in Colonial days this productive garden was been replaced with lawn. An unkempt, dismal yew hedge along a footpath between a church and its churchyard was cut back and trimmed into “odd” topiary shapes bringing a smile to passers-by. What one person thinks is marvellous another may not – eg. a £70,000 treehouse built in an oak tree for his children which was never played in as they preferred playing in the long grass under the adjacent Indian Bean Tree!.


Climate, soil type and the amount of time and money available all determines what your “personal space” will be like.


His talk concluded, enjoy your own, very personal space!


Date for your Diary:

Tuesday, October 2nd – all four RHS Gardens are taking part in the “Free Entry Day”.


Hyde Hall near Rettenden is the closest to the village, slightly further away is Wisley in Surrey on the A3.

Next Meeting:
Wednesday, October 3rd – Subject: Suffolk Wildlife: Birds, Butterflies, Wild flower and Orchids around Minsmere,
Dunwich Heath, The Blyth Estuary and the Suffolk Brecklands.


Meetings are held at The Day Centre adjacent to the car park at the top of Chapel Hill. Doors open 7.30pm for an 8pm start with refreshments available prior to meeting start. Visitors are always welcome to our meetings.

Change to August Meeting

Due to a family illness the scheduled visit to Chrishall Garden on Wednesday 1st August has been CANCELLED.

We are of course saddened by the news, and wish them a quick recovery

Instead we have managed to secure Clare Kneen from Saffron Walden, who will give members a talk at the Day Centre. Further details to follow.

If possible, we we try and arrange another garden visit to Chrishall in the future.

Keeping Chickens



Members were introduced to ‘Keeping Chickens’ by Claudia Audley of Bury Green Poultry.

Claudia started keeping chickens when she was six and over the years has turned her hobby into a successful poultry breeding business. The presentation covered the equipment needed, type of food: from ‘just hatched’ to ‘layers’, pellets to treats, medical issues fowl might encounter, types of hen houses and equipment available, the Law (noise, avian flu etc) and the various breeds and their egg-laying capability.

Bury Green Poultry have a mixture of pure breed and cross-breed chickens and they produce ‘rainbow’ coloured eggs – pink, olive, blue, dark brown, beige and white – which are sold at the Little Hadham Farmers’ Market.

At the moment there is a two/three month waiting list if you wish to purchase bantams to raise in your garden.

As well as really fresh eggs another added advantage is chickens love slugs which are the gardeners’ nemesis and they eat most kitchen scraps. Their manure is good for the garden too! However, the feathered Star of the Evening was Freddie, a Pekin Gold Laced Frizzel Bantam who sat in Claudia’s hands all evening and was quite content to be used as a model. (Frizzel’s feathers grow the opposite way so they always look as though they are having ‘a bad hair day’).

A lively question and answer session followed. Produce was for sale too.

Rose Bowl Competition
Congratulations to Ewelina May who won the competition

Fun & Flair with Flowers

Fun and FLair with flowers - demonstration

Over 130 people attended the flower arranging display at The Forest Hall School on 25th April. Gill McGregor, a National Association of Flower Arranger Societies (NAFAS) National Teacher has demonstrated flower arranging to audiences around the UK.

Fun and Flair with flowers - demonstration

Gill showed the audience six outstanding displays using a variety of flowers in stunning colours. Her skills in weaving and plaiting grasses to unusual shapes amazed the audience.

Whilst demonstrating, she explained various techniques of building up a balanced arrangement and how to use colour combinations to emphasise the shape and size; examples of her work are shown in the photographs.

Fun and FLair with flowers - demonstration 

Our 2018-19 Season is here

Now is the ideal time to become a member of our club as the new season starts next month on Wednesday, 2nd May 2018.

Visitors are always welcome to our meetings (there is a nominal charge of £3.00 per person), but by joining the club as a member you will pay just £15.00 per person for a whole year. You’ll also be the first to find out about our regular garden trips and monthly guest speakers.

Unless an evening visit has been arranged, meetings are held on the first Wednesday of the month (with the exception of January) at the Day Centre adjacent to Crafton Green Car Park in Stansted Mountfitchet village.

Doors open at 7.30pm for an 8pm start, and refreshments are available prior to the talk.

Contact us for more information, pop in at one of our meetings (check here for meeting dates)