The Sudbury Common Lands Charity was set up in 1897 and for ninety years the lands were managed with profit from grazing income in mind. In 1987, however, the Trustees took the decision to move to a new policy of conservation management for the riverside lands.
For the past twenty eight years management of the Sudbury Common Lands has focussed on conservation as well as public access improvements. The grazing regime is no longer aimed at maximising the number of cattle that can be grazed but the number required to maintain the grassland in a favourable state for a range of plants including the uncommon Adder’s Tongue, Round Fruited Rush and Spike Rush among more familiar species.
Thousands of trees and shrubs have been planted to provide diversity in order to encourage more wildlife. Riverside shrubs and trees, for example, provide quiet areas for kingfishers to nest in the river bank. Indeed, apart from a few cricket bat willows planted around the margins of King’s Marsh and Cootes Meadow which provide an intermittent income towards the upkeep of the Sudbury Common Lands, no trees are felled unless they pose a danger to people or property.
Management plans were drawn up in 1987 to ensure that conservation work became a priority and the later designations of Local Nature Reserve and County Wildlife Site bear testimony to the fruits of the labours carried out under those plans. Every action is considered and agreed by the Estate Management committee and the full body of Trustees.
Much of the work carried out is traditional countryside management and one cannot get any more traditional than pollarding riverside willow trees. Such management was typical before the industrial revolution removed the need for much of the wood that provided for everyday life. These trees, however, still have a place in our landscape even if the wood they produce no longer has a market.
This year it has, once again, been the turn of the Centenary Pollards on Freemen’s Little Common and trees adjacent to Manscroft bridge to be re-pollarded. In fact, this is the fourth time since the rangers planted the bare tree branches that these ‘instant’ trees have been pollarded. This work ensures that the trees do not become top-heavy and blow over or that the top growth becomes so large that it splits away from the trunk. The ongoing management of these important landscape features, however, continues to attract complaints about trees being “cut down”; comments that are both emotive and totally inaccurate. Indeed, with continued management, these trees will be thriving after all of us are long dead and gone.