Suffolk’s Seaside Shepherd: On Orford Ness in Feb


Andrew Capell with lambAndrew Capell is a Shepherd working for the National Trust at Orford Ness and other sites on the Suffolk coast.  Andrew has been looking after sheep for over 30 years and he currently cares for the flock of over 100 as well as working with the sheep to maximise habitat conservation on the Ness, Europe's largest vegetated shingle spit...................



February is the time we start to think about getting the Ness ready for the new visitor season which starts on Easter Saturday. It’s all about the B’s: Buildings; Bombs; Birds; Breeding; and the Boat.


We haOrfordness Lighthouse CREDIT Tony Pick 2011 smallve a few buildings that are open to the public and they all need to be cleaned and maybe a lick of paint. Some of the interpretation panels brought up to date and a check on the safety of the building. As we are the only national trust property with an atomic weapon this needs to be cleaned as well and this year the MOD are coming out to give it a look over just to make sure it’s not ticking.


The birds are now thinking about breeding and looking for nest sites so we are pumping water off site so that we can get some dry areas. We have some islands that we need to get the vegetation cut down so that the avocets and gulls will use them and maybe a few common terns. A lot of what I do is water and grass management. Soon the sheep will be coming back on site from their winter grazing. With the mild winter the grass has not really stopped growing so this year’s grazing plan needs to be worked out. The few breeding ewes we have will be first back and will be placed in an area near to the office but away from any lapwing nests. The field is also home to meadow pipits and mallards that seem to use the same area as the sheep, so it’s a case of marking the nest so we know where they are and to keep away and trusting the sheep not to walk on them. So far, touch wood and all that it, has not been a problem and the chicks have fledged in other years.


Commuting by boat to Orford Ness in Suffolk

Our boat that brings people over needs to be taken out of the water and have its hull (bottom) cleaned and painted. This is done on a high tide by placing the boat on the beach. As the tide goes out the boat sits onto the shingle and we then have about 6 hours before the tide comes in again and the boat is back afloat. Other jobs that get done are the visitor routes marked out and signs put up. The volunteer caravan needs to be cleaned and again a lick of paint, and this year it may be treated to a coat of paint on the outside. The office we have on the quay needs to be ready for the selling of the tickets and all this year’s info put into place and the whole place given a good clean.


The tours we put on are now taking bookings so some days the phone never stops, so bookings could be another B we do. As for today, I will be in the workshop giving our little boat some tlc and a coat of paint, well I will after my 10 o’clock coffee, but we are out of milk and the shop is the other side of the river so looks like it will be black unless I can chip out some coffee mate :)).