Why I love Suffolk: Ian Barthorpe

Ian Barthorpe, visitor experience officer at RSPB Minsmere

Ian Barthorpe, visitor experience officer at RSPB Minsmere - Credit: RSPB Minsmere


Most of my best experiences in Suffolk involve watching wildlife, or showing wildlife to other people. It’s always a joy to see people’s faces when they spot their first bittern or adder or learn the amazing lifecycle of the beewolf, but perhaps my most unexpected wildlife encounter in Suffolk was standing on the bank behind the Minsmere visitor centre and watching a humpback whale breached a few hundred metres offshore!


I live in Beccles, and can’t think of anywhere better to live. It’s a beautiful town with lots of lovely independent shops, gorgeous walks along the river, and easy access to both the Broads and the coast


I prefer to escape from the crowds of Aldeburgh or Southwold by walking along the fabulous sandy beach between Benacre Broad and Covehithe Broad, searching the tideline for sea glass or watching sand martins nesting in the crumbling cliffs. I’ve never yet managed to find any amber though.

Place to eat

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We’re spoilt for choice in Suffolk. RSPB Minsmere’s café team make the best cheese scones ever, and the cakes are to die for, making it hard to resist temptation every day. There’s always something special about eating fish and chips on the beach in Aldeburgh, or overlooking Southwold harbour, and if we’re eating out for breakfast then it has to be Posh Pigs at Ellough.


As a geographer, there is something special about standing on the most easterly point in the UK at Ness Point, watching turnstones feeding on the rocky shore or marvelling at the power of the elements as waves crash against the rocks and Gulliver’s turbine blades whirl overhead.


As a non-drinker, I rarely visit pubs, except to eat. I do, however, like a pub with a view, especially over water, so if I had to choose it would probably be sitting in the garden of the Waveney House Hotel in Beccles

Day out

For family days out in Suffolk, we usually visit somewhere where we can enjoy a long countryside walk, such as RSPB Minsmere, Dunwich Forest or the Southwold area, though when my son was younger we always enjoyed a visit to Africa Alive or Framlingham Castle too.


I’m going to go a bit left-field here and say bitterns. This shy reedbed-dwelling heron almost disappeared from the UK in the early 1990s until pioneering research and habitat management by the RSPB helped to turn their fortunes round. The bittern population in the UK is now reached an impressive 200+ booming makes, with healthy populations in the Fens and Somerset Levels and birds recolonising parts of Wales and northern England, though Minsmere remain the best place to enjoy close views of this beautifully camouflaged bird.


I’m a big fan of the Hungate Health Store in Beccles, which sells an excellent range of sustainable cleaning products and toiletries and local foods. Better still, they refill many products, helping to reduce the use of plastic – I can’t remember the last time I bought a bottle of washing up liquid. Oh, and they sell delicious Suffolk honey!