East of England is an area that consists of a few counties, many looking out over the North Sea towards Belgium and The Netherlands. The scenery is pretty similar to our European friends, with lots of marshy wetlands and pretty windmills, on flat land that is prone to flooding. If you venture out towards Lowestoft, you’ll be the first person in England to watch the sun rise, as it’s the most easterly point.
Suffolk has miles of wide sandy beaches and dunes (the green shoots provide habitats for natterjack toads and endangered seabirds), so always follow paths to avoid stepping on dunes and don’t drop litter or light barbecues). Many of the seaside resorts like Southwold (above) are home to pretty pastel beach huts (originally designed for people to discreetly change into their bathing costumes, if they weren’t rich enough to be wheeled into sea in bathing stations).
This is also a main spot to view seals. But for the most part, leave seals well alone (they give vicous bites and disturbing seals can cause them to spook and abandon pups), Also keep dogs away from them (pups are often hidden in sand dunes). If you find an injured seal pup, never put it back in the sea (it could drown or freeze), as blubber is not thick enough. Call British Divers Marine Life Rescue for help.
You also have the Suffolk Broads – a manmade waterways made by pouring water into excavated sites hundreds of years ago, that now provide not just leisurely boating holidays, but important homes and breeding grounds for many endangered mammals, birds and insects).
One of the least-populated areas of England, here you’ll find more ancient churches and spires than anywhere else – perhaps due to monks and nuns fleeing here during the Reformation (when Henry VIII banned the Catholic religion so he could divorce) but perhaps some other reason?
Suffolk’s most famous recent export is singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran. He obviously grew up liking the quiet life. Because despite his success, he has not owned a mobile phone for years, saying he felt so stressed at always being ‘on call’, it made him overwhelmed and sad. He said quitting is one of the best decisions he ever made. He also hardly uses social media. How does he stay in touch? He just opens up his laptop, answers 10 emails at a time, closes it up and goes back to living his life!
At the beach, life is different. A day moves not from hour to hour, but leaps from mood to moment. We go with the currents, plan around the tides, follow the sun. Sandy Gingras
the haunting (very cold) North Sea
The North Sea is the coldest in the world, with northern areas (like Northumberland) being on the same latitude as Scandinavia (the North Sea also houses several islands on the Scottish and Danish coast including Sylt, known as The Hamptons of Germany, first made popular in the 60s by playboy Gunter Sachs and his then-wife Brigitte Bardot). It’s still expensive to visit today, known for its 40km of beautiful seaside walks alongside ‘kniepsand’ dunes’. The North Sea is also majorly over-fished, so native seabirds are at risk of starvation (a Bill is presently going through to hopefully ban fishing of sandeels (those silvery fish you see in photos of puffins) so they have food to eat.
Never take pebbles from beaches (illegal in Italy) as it disturbs ecosystems. Keep dogs away from seaweed (they like to play with fronds) as it expands in the stomach as it dries. If exploring rock pools, leave creatures alone (crabs etc) as many are injured, once returned to sea. Wear wellies (not flops) as wet rocks and seaweed are slippery.
Ghost-fishing waste (discarded fishing nets etc) is a major issue in the North Sea, as is pollution from oil, which affects seabirds and marine creatures. In 2023, Anglian Water was fined £2.65 million for letting untreated sewage overflow into the North Sea due to decommissioning equipment, and failed to act on data due to no alarm system (this is the largest ever environmental fine). Report sewage overflow to Surfers Against Sewage. This is usually brown foamy water that laps at the shore. They say ‘if it smells funky – it’s probably shit’.
Recently the government approved a controversial oil and gas field in the North Sea, saying it will lower people’s bills. But climate lawyer Tessa Khan says that the oil field (to be located near the Shetland Isles) will keep us locked into fossil fuels for decades, and do nothing to reduce bills, as oil will be shipped abroad, then sold back at high profit. Greenpeace says that the Prime Minister has proved that he puts profits of oil companies above everyday people.
from London city to rural Suffolk
The Stubborn Light of Things is a lovely nature diary from a woman who swapped her city life in London (moving from flat to Tube to office) and took the plunge, moving to rural Suffolk, where she reconnected to nature by talking walks with her adopted dog: swifts nesting in a nearby church, ivy-leaved toadflax growing out of brick walls and the first blackbird’s song.
In terms of art, possibly the best thing to come out of 202 was Melissa Harrison’s podcast series The Stubborn Light of Things. This is a brilliant book for anyone who has reconnected with nature this year. Or indeed should reconnect! Hereward Corbett
Melissa Harrison is a nature writer, who has narrated episodes of BBC Radio 4’s long-running Tweet of the Day.