East Anglia has one of the main concentrations of vegetated shingle in the UK.
Shingle is defined as sediment with particle sizes in the range 2-200mm. It is a globally restricted coastal sediment type with few occurrences outside north-west Europe, Japan and New Zealand. Shingle beaches are widely distributed round the coast of the UK but most are not vegetated due to wave action. Pioneer species on the seaward edge include Sea Kale (Crambe maritima), Sea Pea (Lathyrus japonicus), Babington's orache (Atriplex glabriuscula), Sea Beet (Beta vulgaris) and Sea Campion (Silene uniflora) which can withstand exposure to salt spray and some degree of burial or erosion. Sea Kale grow tap roots up to two metres long to reach the fresh water far below the surface.
On our Reserve the shingle provides habitat for nesting Ringed Plovers from April to the end of July. The birds with their eggs and young are very well camouflaged on the shingle and unless they are disturbed remain so. When disturbed the adult will feign a broken wing in order to lead predators away from its eggs or young. An area of shingle is roped off during the nesting season to provide added protection for these birds. Nationally the Ringed Plover is in decline.
The soil on the southern half of the Reserve overlies large deposits of shingle which gives rise to its acidic nature.
It is unimproved pasture, this means that has never received fertilisers. Unimproved pastures have a much higher count of wild flower species as enriched soils favour coarser grasses. It is estimated that less than 30,000 hectares of lowland acid grassland now remain in UK. Important concentrations occur in Breckland, the New Forest, Dorset, the Suffolk Sandlings, the Weald, Dungeness, the coasts of south-west England and the Welsh and English border hills of Powys and Shropshire. Extensive areas of acid grassland are included within sites designated as common land.
On the Reserve rabbits play an important part in not letting the sward become rank. Without their continual grazing coarser grasses can take over. The floristic diversity can be lost and eventually shrubs such as Bramble and Elder take over. The unimproved pasture plays host to a range of specialist fungi such as the Dune Waxcap which is only found in coastal habitat and is an especially important habitat for lichens and mosses. Make sure you look down as you walk to spot the multiude of miniaturised wildflowers (reaching only a few centimetres in height), from Early Forget-me-not to Common Storksbill.
In the Spring and Autumn migration season the Reserve becomes a popular destination for birdwatchers to visit. The coastline is like a highway for migrating birds many stopping off for a rest and to feed. Overlooking the Reserve is the Bird Observatory which rings and records migratory birds as they pass by on their way in and out of Britain, as well as identifying and recording moths (over 900 have been identified here).
Take a walk along the seashore to spot shells, Whelk Eggs, Mermaid's Purses (an egg case of a Skate, Ray or Dogfish) and Thongweed (a brown alga which looks like bootlaces). The point structure is a man made rocky shore with Barnacles, Starfish, Sea Anenomes and the only Kelp in Suffolk. Look out too for the Sea Slater - the marine version of a Woodlouse.
At the top half of the Reserve, protected from sea winds by the rifle butts (mounds built by the military in the 1860's as a back drop to a firing range) there is a healthy population of Common Lizards - you may see one scuttling off into the thick grass as it realises you are approaching. Weasels can also be seen darting between the bramble bushes and down rabbit holes hunting for their prey. Landguard has an abundance of bugs and beasties, including jumping spiders, colourful butterflies and moths, such as the Red Admiral and Hummingbird Hawk Moth. Whilst down at our pond amongst the rare Divided Sedge and tiny pink flowers of the Grass Vetchling are water-loving critters, dragon and damselflies.
Throughout the Reserve you can find traces of the area's military history.
Langer Park, as the area was then known, was first used by the military in 1543 in the reign of Henry VIII and remained in active service right through to the First and Second World Wars. The military finally withdrew in 1971.
Look out for tank traps, gun emplacements, searchlight buildings, dips and troughs for practicing trench warfare and foundations of barrack buildings that were here in the middle of the last century.