The extremely late start to spring had a considerable knock-on effect for the grazing with cattle returning to the pastures much later than usual. Looking through the charity’s minute book the ‘turning-on’ dates varied considerably depending on how wet the pasture land had been during the winter and early spring. Of course, that was before river straightening and widening during the 1950s created considerably drier conditions on the river flood-plain through Sudbury which followed on from the serious flooding in Cross, Church and Ballingdon Streets in 1947. A few weeks here and a few weeks there, however, make little difference to the long-term management of the riverside; the key is that cattle continue to graze and maintain the landscape.
Late April’s spring was a joy after so much cold weather. Fresh grass and leaf growth following on from winter’s gauntness transforms the landscape at this time of year and with the addition of splashes of white blackthorn blossom here and there the landscape becomes comfortable and inviting. The addition of the returning cattle in May completes the picture as another farming year comes alive and the tradition of centuries continues. This is also a timely opportunity to remember that although the cattle are placid they should be left without interference to get on with their job of maintaining the riverside pastureland.
The rewards of management begin to show at this time of year. For example over a decade of work to protect a small colony of cowslips on the slopes of the Wardman Meadows (opposite Friars Meadow) is just beginning to pay off. Each year some of the plants are protected with cages. This is in order to prevent rabbits from nibbling through the flower stems which seems to be an attractive pastime as they idle away the softer days of spring. In late summer the seeds are collected and widely scattered over the pasture. In this way the colony is slowly building up and perhaps in another decade or so there will simply be too many cowslip blooms for the rabbits to eat off. It is a painstaking process as there are no quick fixes in countryside management.