November sees the end of yet another grazing season with the cattle being withdrawn from the pastures and returned to their yards for the winter. The summer grazing season has to have been one of the most extraordinary on record for the intensity of the heat and the lack of rainfall and yet the pastures continued to support the livestock even if there was very little grass by the end of the season.
The Sudbury riverside pastures have not been ploughed or reseeded, nor do they receive artificial fertilisers or sprays. They retain their natural native grasses which grow there because they are adapted to that environment. Apart from thistle control there is little intervention. This is a time-honoured and traditional way of management which, when the going gets tough, clearly proves its value.
The very hot summer was followed by some extremely warm and pleasant autumn days so that in the words of Keats ‘they think that warm days will never cease’. However all good things must come to an end and there are numerous indicators to that effect.
One obvious indicator is the migration of our swallows and martins. These appear to have had a good year with larger flocks seen feeding over the riverside ahead of their journey to warmer climes than in recent years. One of the most unusual and talked about indicators, however, was the arrival of a whooper swan at Brundon. This beautiful species spends the summer in Iceland although a few pairs breed in the north of the British Isles. When conditions change they head south for the winter. Good numbers overwinter at Welney in Cambridgeshire where they feed on sugar beet and cereals in the fen fields during the day and spend the nights on the washes. They readily come to the feeding barrow that the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust members of staff take out in the late afternoon at Welney and that may account for the apparent tameness of ‘our’ bird. Either way whooper swans are rarely seen on the Sudbury riverside.
On arrival at Brundon the whooper on the Sudbury riverside had conspicuous rusty staining to the head. This is caused by foraging in iron rich waters. As the Stour water is hard as a result of dissolved chalk the head feather gradually lost their staining.