Every year, early in July, a number of the Freemen of Sudbury meet to conduct their business. The Freemen are those who have rights in common on the Sudbury Common Lands. Even though they no longer exercise their grazing rights, a number of them take a keen interest in their heritage.
A guided walk over the riverside pastures has become something of a tradition and a number of Freemen met to see how management of the commons was progressing. Although rain threatened from time to time, the afternoon was extremely pleasant with a typically sharp East Anglian quality to the light and sky.
In spite of three months of very dry conditions, the commons continue to retain their compliment of grazing cattle. It remains to be seen how the rest of the season progresses but at the moment the rain is falling and that should promote grass growth.
At the Floodgates the Freemen saw the new ‘Donations Board’ in place. It is hoped that local people who use the Sudbury Common Lands on a regular basis might wish to contribute to their upkeep by assisting with modest monthly donations. The contributions received to date are most welcome and go towards helping this small local charity carry out its work more effectively.
The grace and skill of a Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) was appreciated as it quartered the Floodgates Pool before plunging in and catching a fish. The tern was shaddowed by a Black-headed gull (Larus ridibundus) which was probably hoping to steal a meal. The tern made off down to the Mill Pool with the gull in close pursuit.
Two or three dog walkers were encouraging their pets to enjoy the delights of the refreshing water but they were quite oblivious to the arrival of a Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis). The bird perched on a branch of a poolside Alder (Alnus glutinosa) for long enough for the Freemen to appreciate its vivid colours.
Among the grasses a number of Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) butterflies flitted about when the clouds parted to reveal the warming sun. Elsewhere skipper butterflies (small and/or Essex) were busy on flowering plants. It seems to be a rather quiet time in terms of butterlies at present and hopefully there will be many more on wing during the coming weeks of summer.
On the Fullingpit Meadow ditches damselflies and the larger dragonflies were in evidence. A single spike of Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus) provided a splash of colour against the green backdrop of emergent vegetation. The runs and latrines of Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris) were also seen and are now very easy to locate as these animals increase in number. At the far end of the ditchside a Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) landed gracefully and then proceeded to keep a wary eye on our group.
At the Old Bathing Place the usual swooping traffic of Barn Swallows (Hiroudo rustica) under the bridge was absent. Quite possibly with the first brood off their hands, the adults were incubating a second clutch of eggs. One pair continued to bring food to a nest situated under the Croft bridge.
On North Meadow Common the effects of creating a broad ungrazed margin along the ditch could be seen. Tall vegetation provides a refuge for a variety of creatures and the calls of a Reed Warbler (Acrocphalus scripaceus) could be heard close by. A marvellous stand of Common Meadow Rue (Thalictrum flavum) has colonised this area. It has been lost from many of its former sites so that it is no longer a very frequent plant along the Stour Valley, although it is flourishing once again on the Sudbury riverside.
A rather similar scenario applies to the attractive blue-flowered Skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata). This plant is easily overlooked on account of its small flowers but it appears to be thriving on North Meadow Common.
On one of the ditches a mass of Tubular Water Dropwort (Oenanthe fistulosa) was in full flower. This plant is classed as ‘vulnerable’ nationally so it is encouraging to see it continuing to do so well on the Sudbury riverside.
The riverside tour could have continued for longer but time had flown by and it was necessary to return to enjoy sandwiches and a cup of tea.
In the evening the Trustees of the Sudbury Common Lands Charity met on the other side of the river for an Estate Inspection but that is another story.