May’s newsletter highlighted the very obvious wonders of nature in the glorious display of buttercups. For the most part, however, we do not witness such spectacles as a general rule in lowland England. For meadows bursting with blooms one has to travel further afield where sweeping agricultural changes have yet to reduce wildlife to a shadow of its former abundance. This may be through financial support that recognises the value of such ecosystems not simply for their nature conservation value but, dare one say it, also for their intrinsic beauty. To this end meadows in the high Alps are safeguarded through hefty agricultural support for the benefit of the tourist industry because tourists, in their turn, bring enormous economic benefits to those regions.
Here on our riverside for much of the summer the walker must be much more observant. There is still wildlife to be seen whether it be butterflies, dragonflies or other insects, birds such as little egret and kingfisher and even the glory that is the beautiful landscape; just open eyes and connect with nature. For here too, the value of the landscape and its wildlife is considered worthy of financial support and thus the Sudbury Common Lands Charity can work with conservation in mind within the agricultural framework of cattle grazing.
In spite of the passing of spring’s abundant exuberance and just as the tall grasses of late summer are becoming stiff against the breeze and the earlier floral profusion long forgotten there is one small spot where pale blue bells of seemingly incredible fragility appear, apparently hanging in the grasses so thin are their supporting stems. The harebell, a familiar plant of coasts, moors, mountains and meadows is now rare in these parts and has recently been added to the list of plants of national conservation concern.
Here, the nineteenth century sheep walks on the valley slopes, long replaced by intensive arable cultivations, would have provided the perfect habitat for this seemingly delicate member of the bellflower family. Following the opening of the railway through to Long Melford in 1865 this plant would have readily established in the grassland margins maintained by gangs of railway workers. The demise of the railway led to scrub encroachment and the slow reduction of plant diversity along the line to the extent that the harebell is literally hanging on by a thread. Work by volunteers on the Riverside Projects Team to clear the grassland on the Valley Trail has so far ensured its survival but it is still extremely vulnerable and could simply disappear for ever from this site.