The importance of the River Deben for birds

By Sally Westwood

Common Buzzard


Deben Estuary and changing tides

The River Deben is thought to commence west of Ulveston Hall, near Mickfield, alternatively the Deben may stem from the south in Bedingfield1. The river flows along gradually turning into an estuary between Melton and Woodbridge, and enters the North Sea at Harwich Haven, between Bawdsey and Felixstowe Ferry. A significant feature of the Deben Estuary is the changing tides. The tide is described as “the ocean’s response to the gravitational pull of the Moon and the Sun”2 but more specifically, “it is the variation in this pull over the surface of the Earth that makes tides”3. When tide is rising and coming in, the North Sea washes heavy sediment4 into the Deben which forms intertidal flats around the area of the mouth of the estuary at Felixstowe Ferry. This produces sand and shingle beaches. Finer silt is driven along the estuary into the river to form the mudflats we see at the sides of the river near Woodbridge, and more extensively further along the river at Melton, Wilford Bridge and beyond. The tide rises and falls twice a day5. High water on the River Deben occurs at intervals of approximately twelve hours, and the tide starts ebbing to low tide about six hours following high tide. High tide occurs one hour later each day. The height of the tide is affected by both the strength and direction of wind and atmospheric pressure6.


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Dicotyledonous Plants  of the local Shingle Seashore

By Peter Jones

Background to this article

In 2022 Julia Jones took photos of some plants growing on the beach on the Bawdsey Side of the river deben and asked members of the RDA to help with identification [Plants of the Deben – a plea for help – River Deben Association]. 

Bawdsey Beach, July 2022

One of the problems of doing so was because some of the photos were not very sharp.  The usual reason for this if they were taken on a smartphone is not the quality of the camera but because smartphones are very light, have to be held away from the body in order to see the screen, are difficult to keep absolutely still,  particularly if it is windy (which it usually is at the seaside), so move very slightly during the exposure (the problem varies slightly with the lighting conditions – exposures are longer in lower light conditions, so even very slight movement can cause slight blurring). 

I therefore offered to try to obtain clearer photos using my DSLR camera which is heavier and held against the face in use.  I did not make special visits to take photos and it happened that I was never there when the few and sparsely scattered grasses were in flower, so they have not, so far, been included.   There are also some patches of lichen to be found here and there and I have neither expertise nor reference books to enable accurate identification of these (I suspect this is a group of organisms, like some larger fungi, where amateurs make quick confident identifications but experts are more guarded.).

Below are photographs of 14 species of dicotyledonous plants but there are certainly more, including a vetch (or perhaps two) photographed along with other plants but unidentifiable because they were not in flower and some other plants which were either before or after flowering at the times of my visits.  To compile a comprehensive list would require systematic searching of the area on visits at reasonably close intervals over an entire growing season or more.

Editors note: Dicotyledonous plants are one of the two main groups of all flowering plants. They typically have two embryonic leaves either side on the seed head Continue reading

Citizen Science – Fish Survey 2023

Report from the Second Fish Survey conducted by the RDA and the Institute of Fisheries Management September 2023  

by Steve Colcough

A small group of RDA volunteers, led by Richard Verrill, have been working together with Steve Colcough from the Institute of Fisheries Management and others to collect up to date information about fish stocks in the Deben. RDA Journal readers will remember Richard’s report from August 2022 – Deben Fish Survey 2022 

Now, following a second sampling session from higher up the river, Steve Colcough has produced a formal report available here — River Deben fish surveys 2023. Continue reading

Ramsholt Churchyard September Flowers

By Julia Jones

A first glance Ramsholt Churchyard in September might look a little dull as the dry stalks of the spring and summer flowers die back toward the winter bleakness. But look just a little closer and there are plenty of small shy blooms continuing to offer specks of colour. 

Can you help us identify them? Please fill in as many spaces as you can on the form and press submit. That will send it to me (Julia Jones) [email protected].

I hope to publish the results in the next edition of The Deben magazine.

I don’t think we publish enough articles about the plants of the river — the charming unobtrusive flowers and rich variety of trees. If anyone has expertise which they’d be willing to share, please get in touch.

Meanwhile the RDA Journal team are taking a break until mid-January and wish you a very Happy Christmas and New Year.

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Geese on the Deben

By Sally Westwood

Plate 1: Canada Goose

Source: (2023)

Canada Goose

You may have observed large flocks, or a gaggle of Canada Geese1 (Branta canadenis) (see Plate 1, below) on the mudflats and surrounding marshland of the Deben. It is the most familiar goose on our river. It is perhaps not surprising that the Deben functions as a habitat for four geese, including the Canada, the Barnacle, the Brent and the Greylag goose, since the Deben and the surrounding marshes and farmland has a wide range of food available for geese. The Deben estuary has narrow mudflats at the mouth of the river and wide mudflats on the inner section of the estuary. The majority of the land to the side of the estuary is agricultural farmland and this is flanked by grazing marshes. The estuary is also heavily fringed by Saltmarsh, as well as small side creeks, the largest of which is Martlesham Creek at the northern end of the river. Continue reading

A Walk Around Martlesham Wilds, with Suffolk Wildlife Trust

By Sally Westwood

Martlesham Wilds Bill Board.

I popped along in the car, the day before my arranged walk with Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s meeting point for the Martlesham Wilds walk, at the car park for St Mary’s Church, in Martlesham. I scanned the field to the right of the car park and spotted four Curlews, two at the edge of the field, and two more in the centre of the field. I could see a pair of Geese in the distance, in the same field but could not identify them without my binoculars. This looked promising. Curlews were in residence, feeding near Martlesham Wilds. It was farmland, a stone’s throw from the River Deben. Continue reading

Avian Influenza and the Wild Birds of the Deben

By Sally Westwood

It was unusual to see a dead Great Cormorant trapped between the pontoons in a marina, at low tide, on the River Deben. I have also seen a Mute Swan in similar circumstances a couple of weeks ago. It may be that both birds succumbed to Avian Influenza or they may have died of natural causes. The UK is experiencing a large outbreak, the largest recorded outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza which is affecting wild birds, poultry and captive birds1. Avian Influenza is a highly contagious disease in animals and birds stemming from influenza A viruses2. A very small amount of Avian Influenza virus strains can result in a high amount of fatalities in flocks of domestic poultry. Such strains are referred to as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). Continue reading

The Cormorant

By Sally Westwood

The Cormorant has a distinctive flight outline. Their body is narrow and linear, with outstretched wings. A Cormorant glided past me along the course of the River Deben, descending down to the surface of the water, staring ahead. The bird’s feet, webbed between four toes landed on the water, on stretched out, short legs. Water splashing loudly on impact. The feet touched the water at the base, or heel of the legs, with the rest of the foot held upright, to act as a break to landing. Using their feet like water skis. The extended, raised wings also slowed down the landing, gradually closing as the bird completely crashed on the water. Continue reading

Deben Fish Survey August 2022

By Richard Verrill

It is well recognised that estuaries provide essential breeding grounds and nurseries for many fish species. They also provide corridors for migratory species. Estuaries provide a very dynamic environment with constant changes in tide, temperature and salinity. Intertidal areas provide particularly important refuge and feeding grounds for small fish.The variety of the shoreline in the Deben provides an abundance of different nursery environments with sandy beaches, shingle beaches, mudflats and salt marsh. Continue reading

The Curlew

by Sally Westwood

Curlew (Numenius arquata)

The tide was ebbing, almost at low tide, it was about an hour before sunset. The Deben was embellished with a clear, magical light that appears just before sunset and sunrise. Such a light produces enhanced clarity of detail in everything visible to the eye. Two Curlews1 landed on the mudflat, one each side of a gully of water draining into the shallow channel of the river.  Curlews are the largest waders in the UK, with a streaked and barred plumage, long legs and a distinctive down curved bill2, see image above. In flight, it shows a white section on the rump. The Whimbrel3 by comparison, is a similar bird to the Curlew, except it has a shorter, thicker bill, with a narrow stripe on the crown and is smaller than the Curlew, see image below. In flight, it shows a white section on the tail and back. I was alerted to the Curlew’s presence from their distinctive “Curlew, Curlew’’ calls made when they were flying. It is a call I regard as haunting in the cold, overcast days of winter. They also have a trembling, evocative bubbling call, that ends with what may be described as “dude” which carries some distance. One Curlew joined the other, on the other side of the gully. They immediately started squabbling, poking their long slender, down curved bills at each other, raising their wings slightly. Moments later, the set too ended when one returned to the other side of the gully and started searching for food, poking its bill, deep into the mud. The other Curlew started bathing and shaking out feathers, as in the image above. They may have been a pair, or an adult and youngster, however, research on Curlews has indicated that the latter relationship may be unlikely4. Since Curlews in England and Wales are in decline and such decline is driven by factors occurring during the annual breeding season.
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