The shingle we find on our beaches comes from the erosion of cliffs and from marine deposits of flints. Orford Ness is the largest shingle spit in Europe and is of international importance. Other notable shingle sites are Thorpeness, Shingle Street and the Landguard peninsula. The Knolls, at the mouth of the river Deben are globally unique being the only shingle spit in the world to be formed by an ebb tide.
Moving shingle has blocked a few small river mouths, creating saline lagoons, such as Covehithe, Easton and Benacre Broads (although the December 2013 tidal surge created overnight changes to some of these.) Where a lot of shingle accumulates (its 18 metres deep at Landguard!) and is not regularly exposed to waves, it becomes stable enough to allow plant growth, in particular sea pea, sea kale, yellow horned poppy and sea campion. This habitat is known as Vegetated Shingle and although common in Suffolk is only found in North West Europe, Japan and New Zealand.
Shingle beaches are critical for ground nesting birds such as lesser black-backed gulls, little terns and ringed plovers and both the shingle itself and the birds that nest in them are incredibly vulnerable to disturbance. Little tern colonies in particular have suffered repeated nesting failures, Our seasonal graduate trainees have worked with local people and schoolchildren to help manage access and reduce the damage and disturbance that can occur when too many people trample vegetated shingle.