Sudbury has what might be called a ‘unique’ riverside. Of course its landscape is not mimicked elsewhere so it is different but its uniqueness lies in what it has to offer yet is often overlooked.
The uniqueness really comes down to consistent management, not for a year or two but for the long-term. Even the countryside manager cannot predict the outcomes but if the management is correct those outcomes should be positive.
There are many examples of the above on our riverside but one that is particularly accessible to everyone is the small area of meadow on Friars Meadow. That is the real ‘meadow’ and not the large area of flat-mown amenity where people can enjoy a picnic, walk the dog, kick a football or whatever quiet informal recreation that takes their fancy.
The ‘real’ meadow was established following a very wet spring of 1987 when contractors were unable to mow the area. In 1995 the Sudbury Common Lands Charity took on the contract and changed the way it was managed. Twenty years on that management began bearing fruit demonstrating that conservation work has to be viewed as long-term.
So what is the big deal? Dog walkers launch their doggy balls into the long grass for their pets to retrieve or lose without even considering why it is there. Others may admire the massed yellow sheen of buttercups or even picnic or photograph their children in amongst them. But no one stops to think why it is there or indeed seems to care very much at all.
After all these years, however, changes are afoot and later in the month it will be well worth walking around the margins and opening eyes and looking into the meadow for there are floristic ‘jewels’ amongst the buttercups. This part of Friars Meadow is designated as a County Wildlife Site and it certainly packs a punch in terms of its flora. People might easily overlook the common spike rush or the nationally scarce tubular water dropwort but a glance into the meadow in late May and early June will reveal the showy spikes of early marsh orchids.
It has taken many years for the land to become suitable for marsh orchids and this has been achieved through autumn cutting and clearing to reduce competition over two decades and more. At first just one or two orchids appeared. Now they are increasing into the hundreds and the seed bank is such that new plants will keep on appearing every year. An area like this could, in due course, easily accommodate a thousand flowering orchids. However, alter the management just once and the orchids would disappear.
So countryside management is sometimes about making the ordinary extraordinary and it is not just about the work, it is about waiting patiently for the results.
On an entirely different note, a Cetti’s warbler has taken up residence close by the meadow. This species first arrived in this country in 1972 and is slowly colonising wetland areas where its incredibly loud bursts of song indicate that it is skulking somewhere in the undergrowth.
Finally, with the return of the cattle everyone is reminded to keep away from them and to keep their dogs under close control as clearly requested at every access point. The cattle have the timeless job of munching their way through the season’s growth which maintains the open pastoral landscape that so many appreciate.