Alde Estuary

Aldeburgh and Snape Estuary. 

24th August 2014

National Grid Reference: TM 461595 

Ordnance Survey Sheet 1:50,000:

Area: 534.34 (ha.) 1,319.82 (ac.) 

1:10,000: TM 45 NE, TM 46 SE


At dusk, the areas surrounding Aldeburgh and the Alde Estuary have a stunning serenity. This stressed landscape, with its mudflats, tide pools, reed banks and salt marshes undergoes constant and invasive transformation through the often brutal agencies of tide and weather. This is a place where coastal erosion has taken a huge toll on landscape and wildlife alike.

The area is heavily protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest,(SSSI)  Area of Natural Beauty (AoNB), and Environmental Sensitive Area (ESA), amongst other designations.


We traverse a series of meandering, sinuous pathways into the heart of the estuary, a place so supremely flat, that sea, land and sky meet and interlock, like contrasting segments of the same canvas. This is a subtle, relatively featureless expanse, broken only by the steeple of nearby Iken Church, projecting through the undergrowth.

And yet, deeper perception reveals a landscape animated with colour, sound, and the theatre of nature. I am absorbed by the raffia-like reeds, with their muted purples and sages, the rusts and ochres of dying flora, the buttery green-yellow of vetches and grasses, the deep and malevolent gunmetal sky, loaded with storm water, the multicoloured, vegetated shingle spits crunching underfoot, the sodden, grey-green bubbling ferment of the bogs and swamps teeming with microbial life.

From an apparently bland environment emerge multilayered, striated estuarine features, coastal formations, swales, coralline crags, strange inlets and brackish lagoons, some populated with the meagre remnants of recent habitation. And pointing upwards as if in supplication, the dendritic fingers of oaks, stripped, denuded,  bleached and consumed by the encroaching salt marsh, and left in skeletal silhouette, like frozen lightning against the dusky sky.


This is a liminal place. A place of inconstancy, subtlety and fragility. Everything here seems to be suspended in a state of “becoming”, ready for change. This is a viscous shoreline, shifting and shimmering, balanced somewhere between the fluidity of the sea, and the solidity of the land. Everything here is malleable, a series of endlessly shifting coordinates;  the swaying grasses, the swamp like mudflats, the fermenting bogs, the restless tide pools, the animated shingle, the alluvial, sedimented, eroded edges of the land, constantly in motion.

My intervention here is perhaps too brief for detailed appraisal, too rapid to note the changes and transformations. My eye is perhaps not keen enough to detect the tiny, the intricate, the particulate, as many places that I am familiar with have been subjected to deeper, more detailed scrutiny. It takes time to acclimatise, absorb, and assimilate the nuances of a place, and secrets are not yielded easily. This visit has served to spur me on to see the place with all of its moods, seasons and transitions , and I vow to visit once again.


Sand Sedge- Carex Arenaria

Heather- Calluna vulgaris

Bracken – Pteridium Aquilinum

Gorse – Ulex Europaeus and Ulex Gallii

Sheep’s Fescue –  Festuca Ovina

Common Bent – Agrostis Capillaris

Lady’s Bedstraw – Galium Verum,

Sheep’s Sorrel –  Rumex Acetosella

Mossy Stonecrop –  Crassula Tillea (rare)

Clustered Clover –  Trifolium Glomeratum. (rare)

On the vegetated shingle there is a gradual transition between the strandline community and the shingle heath resulting from increasing stability and distance from tidal influence. On the open shingle:

Sea-Kale – Crambe Maritime

Yellow Horned Poppy –  Glaucium Flavum

Sea Spurge –  Euphorbia Paralias.

The stable shingle areas support many species including:

Early Hair-Grass –  Aira Praecox

Sand Catchfly –  Silene Conica,

Dune Fescue – Vulpia Fasciculata,

Bur Medick –  Medicago Minima,

Suffocated Clover –  Trifolium Suffocatum

Sea Pea –  Lathyrus japonicus.






























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