Over the past few weeks the riverside pastures have looked absolutely stunning by any stretch of the imagination. The Devon cattle returned from their winter quarters to graze on the lush grass among the swathes of golden buttercups all set off against a backdrop of flowering hawthorn, which is often call the May tree for obvious reasons. It is a timeless landscape that would resonate with any person who might have been alive a couple of hundred years ago and it is a landscape worth maintaining even in this modern age. It is still a farmed landscape, the big clue being the presence of the cattle.
During May various guided walks took place including two as part of the Suffolk Walks Festival, one for a group of French visitors and a further one for a group of keen gardeners. As the land is managed in a traditional manner there is an interesting range of plants and animals to see including a huge variety of life in the ditches along with the curious Adder’s Tongue and other plants associated with ancient pasture land.
Elsewhere on the riverside orchids are bursting into bloom in ever increasing numbers. It really is fantastic that much of this takes place on an area that is so very busy with people and dogs and it is crucial that everyone acts in a responsible manner to protect what still exists as well as to maintain the important grazing tradition.
So is all well? Not quite. In the early part of May a number of large fish died in the river channels. These were all healthy specimens without a mark on them. So why did they die? At this time of year our river is used as a transfer channel to convey water from the Ely Ouse to the large reservoirs in north Essex and thence to the conurbations north of London. At certain times of the year this water is subject to agricultural run-off from arable land and, in addition, a rapidly increasing human population is adding more treated water via sewerage works into the river. This increase in nutrients can encourage algal blooms as well as increases in bacterial activity which may lead to oxygen depletion in the water. Last year a similar fish kill occurred at Bures. The Environment Agency appears to be monitoring the situation with increased water testing and river patrols. Added to the problem of deoxygenation is the range of non-native animals including mink, signal crayfish and even red-eared terrapin, which all come from North America and Mexico. These are chomping their way through our aquatic wildlife and putting our river wildlife under extra unnecessary pressure.