Plants, cattle and kingfishers

Plants, cattle and kingfishers
May 20, 2011 Adrian Walters

The sun continues to shine and even when dark and threatening clouds appear they provide no more than the lightest shower. After almost three months of similar weather there are clear signs of  the effects of the lack of rainfall on the riverside. Wetland flora is suffering unless it is growing on pond, ditch or river margins and the grass growth is severely restricted. This means that far fewer cattle are currently grazing the pastures than would normally be the case.

In some places plants are under severe stress and appear to be dying back whilst in others the high water table appears to be providing enough moisture for wetland species to survive. However, as they say, every cloud has a silver lining – even if there is no moisture in it! The Marsh Horsetail (Equisetum palustre) which has colonised large areas of some pastures with amazing rapidity is currently under sever stress and the top growth is dying off. Cattle find this plant extremely unpalatable and will avoid it. This means that where the plant is present the pasture can become very rank and overgrown. It remains to be seen whether the rhizomes die off or whether new growth will appear once rainfall resumes.

Following on from the very severe winter (by East Anglian standards) it could have been expected that the kingfisher population would have plummeted. When rivers freeze over for any length of time kingfishers are unable to feed. Some make their way down to the estuaries where tidal movement prevents freezing and small fish can be found in brackish water but many birds also die.

It is, therefore, quite surprising and very pleasing indeed to see that two pairs of kingfishers have nested on the Sudbury Common Lands. They are very busy feeding young and the adult birds can be seen over the pasture land as speeding, low flying dazzling blue specks. Very few people actually see these gorgeously coloured birds as they are small and very easy to miss.