If you've visited Minsmere recently, or are a regular reader of my blogs, you'll know that major changes are in the pipeline. We're hoping to appoint contractors soon ready to start work on the exciting Minsmere Discover Nature Project later this autumn - more on this closer to the time, but once completed we're sure you'll enjoy the new-look Minsmere.

The Environment Agency's Minsmere Flood Defence Project is now underway, tough, and this will result in some changes to visitor arrangements for the next five months. This is a vital project to ensure that the freshwater reedbeds and Scrape remain safe from seawater flooding for many years to come, so please bear with us during the construction period.

So, what's happening? In short, the North Wall (that's the path from the visitor centre to the sea) is being widened and strengthened to provide increased protection from the sea in anticipation of future breaches to the existing defences at the northern end of the beach, just south of the National Trust Coastguards Cottages. Eventually, this will result in North Marsh becoming gradually more brackish, and in time tidal, with a subsequent loss of habitat for scarce reedbed species such as bittern and bearded tit. We are, therefore, working with the Environment Agency to identify suitable locations to create new reedbeds elsewhere.

The North Wall and North Marsh, pre-work starting (by Ian Barthorpe)

What this means for visitors is that from Monday 15 August, there will be strictly no access along the North Wall until work is complete - by late February 2012, possibly slightly earlier - as this area will be a major construction site. East Hide will still be open, but will only be accessible via the sluice and a long walk up the beach.

We have, however, just opened a new seasonal trail to the North Levels to provide alternative opportunities to watch waders. This trail is accessed via the gate to the Konik Field (near the sluice), then following the bank of the New Cut to view a series of pools that are normally only visible very distantly from the Whin Hill Watchpoint. It's quite a long walk (3/4 mile each way) but if you enjoy watching waders it's certainly worth it. Highlights yesterday morning included wood sandpiper, two green sandpipers, two greenshanks, spotted redshank and ruff. These pools are also good for herons, especially little egrets and grey herons, but also bitterns while in recent years great white egrets and spoonbills have been regular visitors. It's great to be able to explore areas that are usually out of bounds, and the flocks of finches and reed buntings feeding on thistle heads simply add to the experience. 

Greenshank by Jon Evans

Our other seasonal trail, the butterfly trail, in the woods behind Canopy Hide, continues to prove popular. As well as butterflies, dragonflies and grasshoppers, visitors have recently reported seeing red fox and slow worm along there. We're also planning further new trails as the autumn progesses.

If you are planning a visit, the latest details of all access arrangements and seasonal trails will be available at reception on arrival. Enjoy your visit.