Havergate Island, located close to the village of Orford at the convergence point of the Butely River and the River Ore, is Suffolk's only island.

Just half a mile across at its widest point and two miles long, it is comprised of saltwater lagoons, marshland and vegetated shingle.

It has an interesting history having been used for grazing livestock, arable farming and gravel extraction over the years with a resident family living on the island until the late 1920s.

These days it is managed by the RSPB as a nature reserve which teems with rare and unusual wildlife making it an island of natural treasures. 

East Anglian Daily Times: RSPB warden Lyndsey on patrol RSPB warden Lyndsey on patrol (Image: John Boyle)

During the Second World War with the island left unattended the sluices crucial for draining the island collapsed, causing Havergate to become partially flooded.

In 1947 a pair of pied avocets, a wading bird that had been absent from Britain as a breeding species for 100 years, was found to be nesting on the flooded island. 

East Anglian Daily Times: Avocets are now thriving at Havergate IslandAvocets are now thriving at Havergate Island (Image: John Boyle)

This was a turning point in Havergate’s history and the driving force behind the RSPB’s decision to purchase the island in 1948.

Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the avocet has been resurrected from that single Suffolk nest and gone on to recolonise much of Eastern England’s coastal region with nearly 500 breeding pairs.

The return of the avocet was such a milestone in UK bird conservation that the species was adopted for the RSPB’s distinctive logo.  

East Anglian Daily Times: Dunlin probing for food Dunlin probing for food (Image: John Boyle)

Avocets may be the “poster bird” for avian conservation but on Havergate Island they have some stiff competition for star species billing.

After years of habitat improvement work by RSPB staff and volunteers, rare spoonbills successfully bred here in 2020, the first chicks born in Suffolk since 1668.

Part of the work to attract the spoonbills involved the construction and erection of raised nesting platforms but ironically the birds chose to build their nests under the structures.

That’s nature for you.

The number of breeding spoonbills has increased steadily to 14 pairs in 2023, with 30 chicks fledging successfully.

East Anglian Daily Times: Barn owl hunting over the island Barn owl hunting over the island (Image: John Boyle)

Other notable bird species are barn and short-eared owls, Marsh harriers, a huge variety of waterfowl and waders and a nationally significant gull colony.  

East Anglian Daily Times: Oystercatcher feeding in the lagoonsOystercatcher feeding in the lagoons (Image: John Boyle)

Butterfly species commonly found on the island in the warmer months are skippers, small coppers, wall browns, meadow browns and gatekeepers. 

Chinese water deer and otters are amongst the mammals that visit the island but the easiest species to view is undoubtably the Brown hare.

East Anglian Daily Times: Havergate haresHavergate hares (Image: John Boyle)

Unlike their cousins on the mainland, they have become habituated to the presence of people with a noticeably laid-back demeanour to the point where one individual has recently taken to hunkering down in full view at the warden’s hut, sheltering between the building and a Calor gas bottle.

East Anglian Daily Times: The hares aren't bothered by peopleThe hares aren't bothered by people (Image: John Boyle)

Hares can usually be seen grazing in front of the RSPB’s huts or resting in forms with their backsides tucked into the gorse bushes.

They haven’t lost their renowned turn of pace but if they feel threatened will often just run to the sanctuary of a gorse bush, reversing their posteriors into the thorny foliage before settling down again.

Havergate’s population of hares isn’t totally isolated from the mainland as they are capable swimmers. 

If you fancy exploring Suffolk’s “Treasure Island” the RSPB run a number of guided and non-guided walks as well as specialised photography tours.

All trips depart from Orford Quay and need be booked in advance at http://events.rspb.org.uk/havergateisland