Orford Ness, Suffolk

Orford Ness is approximately 16km long and stretches, stretching southwards along the Suffolk coast from Aldeburgh to Shingle Street. The northern tip is linked to the mainland by a narrow strip of land at Slaughden. The rest is separated from the mainland by the tidal river River Ore and the Ness itself is split in two by the tidal watercourse Stoney Ditch. Lantern Marsh and King’s Marsh lie to the north of Stoney Ditch; the vegetated shingle spit Orford Beach lies to the south. Height above sea level ranges from c 0m OD to c4m OD.

The National Trust bought Orford Ness from the Ministry of Defence in 1993 and as well as caring for the rare shingle and marshland habitats look after the c 84 buildings there. With the exception of the 19th-century lighthouse (not owned by the National Trust) and the Coastguard Watch House, also probably 19th-century, all the buildings date to the military occupation of Orford Ness from 1914 - 1972.

Shortly after the National Trust acquired the site The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) undertook a partial survey of Orford Ness (Cocroft and Alexander 2009). This covered the area known as ‘The Street’, predominantly filled with First World War era buildings. A further survey was carried out in 2009 as part of the national English Heritage project Cold War, People and Place; this survey was principally concerned with understanding the post-war use of the spit by the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (Cocroft and Alexander 2009).

CITiZAN has carried out four training weekends on Orford Ness. During these weekends CITiZAN staff and volunteers recorded and monitored features along the shingle shelf of Orford Beach including the Coastguards Watch House (July 2016); the visible remains of the First World War Prisoner of War camp and the aircraft wing lodged in Stoney Ditch (September 2016); the First World War barrack/stores building and the canteen building (Buildings C1 and C13 respectively in Cocroft and Alexander 2009) (June 2017) and has begun a Historic England Level 1 survey of all the buildings on the Ness (March 2018). An interim report for the September 2016 work has been issued to the National Trust (Band 2017); a full report on all work is forthcoming.

Debating the effects of erosion on a WWII era ground marker used in missile trajectory testing, Orford Ness
Debating the effects of erosion on a WWII era ground marker used in missile trajectory testing, Orford Ness

We've also been working as a partner with the Arts and Heritage Research Council funded project Heritage Futures, alongside a diverse group of organisations including the National Trust, The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme and the Anthropology Institute of Minzu University of China. Through these partnerships Heritage Futures studies practices across a variety of different disciplines with the aim of developing an international framework for understanding the challenges in caring for heritage, in its broadest sense, and in the future.

For more about our work on Orford Ness see our blogs from September 2016January 2017July 2017 and March 2018. See also Nadia Bartolini's film for Heritage Futures which captures perfectly our feelings about the inevitability of losing heritage on the fast eroding shores of the Ness and how we mitigate against this loss.



Cocroft, W and Alexander, M. Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Orford Ness, Suffolk. Survey Report, October 2009, English Heritage Research Department Report