The Sandlings IPA

Location: All coast of Suffolk, from Ipswich to Lowestoft

Grid Reference: TM 438 583

The Sandlings IPA has been recognised as one of 165 Important Plant Areas in the UK.

The key features of this IPA are:

  • The species richness of vascular plant in dry acid grassland
  • The IPA encompasses the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), a low-lying coastal landscape of great variety, stretching from the Stour estuary in the south to Kessingland in the north, and covering 403 square kilometres. It contains a unique mixture of shingle beaches, crumbling cliffs, marshes, estuaries, forests and farmland, together with the Sandlings heaths themselves. At one time a gently undulating plateau of heathland ran unbroken from north Suffolk to Ipswich - almost the full length of the IPA. Known locally as 'The ‘Sandlings’, this wild landscape was actually created by humans and sheep, following the clearance of the original woodland thousands of years ago. As early farmers cleared the trees and introduced sheep to graze the land, the sandy, free-draining acidic soils developed a characteristic heathland flora, dominated by heather and grasses.

    Plants you could see

    The area is rich in wild plants, including the endangered species tower mustard, which is considered to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. There is a variety of beach flora, and you might see yellow-horned poppy, sea campion, sea kale, sea holly, sea pea, sea beet or sea sandwort. In the estuaries there are beds of narrow-leaved eelgrass in saline conditions, spiral tasselweed in brackish water and dense beds of common reed in fresh water. The wetlands and reed beds support sea lavender, marsh sow-thistle, marsh mallow, bog pimpernel, sneezewort, lousewort, bogbean, frog-bit, greater bladderwort and golden dock. The vegetation of the heathland is dominated by heather, mostly common heather (or ling), with bell heather and cross-leaved heath in places. Other plants found on the heaths include sheep’s fescue grass, tormentil, heath milkwort, harebells, fenugreek, subterranean and suffocated clovers and mossy stonecrop. Lichens and mosses are common on heaths, sometimes forming the whole vegetation cover over bare ground. The Sandlings heaths support the very rare red-tipped cudweed, and the scarce plants mossy stonecrop, shepherd’s cress and the parasitic dodder. Gorse and the scarce dwarf furze occur as continuous and scattered scrub over small areas.

    Springtime: lesser celandine, Danish scurvygrass, butterbur

    Summer: yellow horned poppy, tower mustard, sea kale, bell heather, heath milkwort

    Autumn and winter: lichens, mosses, gorse