The Friars Meadow County Wildlife Site has changed dramatically over the years as the management has extinguished the coarse grasses. Time was, in high summer, when mists of Yorkshire Fog grass pollen would drift in dusty swirls as the breeze blew across the meadow. It was quite a sight but there was little floristic interest.
The area was designated back in the late 1980s after contractors were unable to mow the area on account of a very wet spring. The lapse in cutting allowed a wonderful display of cuckoo flower to show which was then mown-down in full bloom to the understandable upset of a few people who appreciate the finer things in nature. This led to complaints and even a letter to the Guardian and thus the area was ‘set aside’ by Babergh for more interesting purposes than the weekly amenity mowing.
Over the course of time common spike rush, cuckoo flower and the rather uncommon tubular water dropwort made their homes there along with water shrew, grass snake, and a myriad of insects. Interestingly, yellow rattle has spread throughout the area having been transferred by grass mower from Great Cornard Country Park. This plant is semi-parasitic on grass roots and therefore competition from grasses is further reduced.
In 2012 the first early marsh orchid put in an appearance and the scene was set for the future. However, owing to the accessibility of the land the orchid soon disappeared as did subsequent ones that bloomed in 2013 and 2014. Last year, however, seven orchids flowered and the majority survived. In the meantime there were other plants beginning to build up reserves over the four of five year period that it takes to grow from the tiny dust-like seed to flowering plant. This year the rewards of long-term management are clear with seventy four flowering orchids. This, however, is just the beginning if all other factors remain equal. It is a small site open to all kinds of influences but in the meantime we should all be able to en joy the very accessible sight of these beautiful plants which also grow in profusion elsewhere in the riverside pastures.
Those orchids and others on other meadows were admired by a group of thirty five walkers on the recent Suffolk Walking Festival event over the bank holiday weekend. These people came from all over the region to enjoy the treasures of Sudbury’s riverside.