The ‘mere’ mention of the word makes me think of something small or insignificant, yet there is another meaning.
A ‘mere’ can also be a small lake, pond or marsh. Tennyson even wrote of them. ‘Sometimes on lonely mountain meres, I find a magic bark’. Not so insignificant then. I was not looking for a mountain mere though, but something rather more low-lying.
Minsmere is a splendid mix of woodland, wetland and coastal scene, lying between Southwold (north) and Leiston and Aldeburgh (south) and is close to that sunken metropolis of Dunwich. Here is an RSPB reserve, where rare birds visit on migration and breed among coastal lagoons and reedbeds. Minsmere has an unusual tale to tell and not solely of feathered friends and otters.
People have lived around these parts for centuries. Leiston Abbey was founded by Ranulf de Glanville, Lord Chief Justice to Henry II, in 1182, and was ‘moved’ to its current location in 1363, two miles further away. The remains of modest Leiston Chapel, on the abbey’s original site, sit on a low hill overlooking the mere, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, which the RSPB manages as part of its conservation work. This was in use until 1537 and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Buried remains include cloisters and living quarters for monks, who are now long gone.
It was WW2, though, that was to have the most significant impact on this landscape. By the 20th century the mere was drained for agricultural use, then along came the threat of German invasion in 1940. The area behind the coastal dunes was flooded as a defence measure, a tactic employed at many similar locations in East Anglia. The Luftwaffe’s own aerial shots confirm a recently drowned agricultural landscape and hasty construction of a ‘coastal crust’ of concrete and barbed wire defences. A row of anti-tank ‘cubes’ can still be seen on the coastal dunes, and a pillbox was concealed within the ruins of the medieval chapel.
That deliberate act of flooding proved to be the first step, however, in restoring biodiversity to this reserve and ultimately led to the RSPB’s management of it from 1947, the same year the avocet first bred here, a hugely significant event, as this was the first time in around a century this fascinating bird had bred in the UK. The avocet is now the RSPB’s signature bird, as featured on its logo.Buy Now