Orford Ness is an important coastal nature reserve, with a fascinating 20th century military history.
Orford Ness is the largest vegetated shingle spit in Europe, linked to the mainland at Aldeburgh. It is wild, remote and a haven for wildlife. Havergate Island nestles between Orford Ness and the mainland and the two of them are a designated Nature Reserve and form part of the Alde-Ore estuary site of scientific interest (SSI).
Orford Ness National Nature Reserve
Its isolated location was attractive for the Ministry of Defence in the early 20th century, and it has been the site for multiple clandestine projects, from an early RAF base to a bomb-testing run; from an experimental over-the-horizon radar array to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. The concrete shells of the ‘Pagoda’ laboratories remain clearly visible from the other side of the river.
For more than 200 years, the lighthouse at Orford Ness warned mariners they were nearing Europe’s longest shingle spit.
Built in 1792, 30 meters high and designed by architect William Wilkins, it became the first lighthouse to be monitored by telemetry, ushering in a process of lighthouse automation which continued around England over the next 35 years.
The Lighthouse was decommissioned in 2013 and was finally demolished in July 2020 as it was about to collapse into the sea.
The 1913 optic was removed before the Lighthouse was demolished and is now displayed in the London headquarters of the International Maritime Organisation.