Now that the cattle are leaving the summer pastures for their winter quarters, management thoughts turn to other matters. However, it is worth taking a look at the minute book to see what was happening in terms of grazing one hundred years ago. In that year, the head of livestock on the Sudbury Common Lands was limited to 150; to include cows, heifers, working horses and ponies at a turning on charge of £3.10.0 per head. It easy to forget how central to farming and commerce horses were in the pre tractor era, but it would not be long before the Shires and Punches and all other working horses became surplus to requirement.
This is the season to check and replace fencing posts where the cattle have pushed up against them and broken them. This work has been carried out assiduously since the 1990s when all the fencing was replaced which involved putting in several thousand new stakes by hand. Now a tractor mounted post-driver makes light of the job although the cost of the fencing materials is now much higher. Prior to the fencing work, cattle had a tendency to get out and wander over roads and chew on prize blooms in householders’ gardens which, unsurprisingly, proved to be rather unpopular.
Other winter work includes coppicing of trees to improve habitat by letting in light to the woodland floor. It is amazing how flora can respond to this work. In Cornard Country Park, plants associated with ancient woodland include the native bluebell, pignut, moschatel, and goldilocks which is a type of buttercup.
Along the Valley Trail the outgrowing trees will be pushed back to keep the trail clear so that walkers, cyclists, and horse riders can continue to enjoy it. The lack of volunteer work parties under the Covid restrictions meant that this work did not take place last year, but the trees and shrubs, nonetheless, kept growing.
At this time of year our summer migrants are now enjoying warmer climes. However, it is the turn of our winter visitors to take advantage of our relatively balmy climate as they leave behind the freezing conditions of the dark and frozen north. They require shrubs and trees laden with berries in order to survive through the winter until they depart northwards once more. Berried hedgerows will attract fieldfares and redwings and their loud calls can be heard even when the birds cannot be seen on a misty November day. Let us hope that some hedgerows are spared the farmers’ flails so that they find the sustenance they need to survive.