The cattle returned to the pastures on 1st May following the pomp and procession of the Turning On ceremony. This celebration serves as a reminder of the inalienable links between the town and the Sudbury Common Lands where, historically, Freeman grazed their livestock. With written grazing records stretching back to the eleventh century the pastures have a long pedigree as grazed farmland and it is very important to continue the tradition in order to maintain them. Few people pause to give a though as to how the riverside would soon look if grazing management were abandoned.
The spring started in a very slow manner. Cold weather throughout March was followed by very dry conditions in April, neither of which was conducive to good grass growth. Although the cattle arrived on 1st May, until 1897 it was the mayor who determined whether the grass was fit and ready for the Freemen’s livestock. The charity’s minute book records that one hundred years ago the trustees decided that the 12th May should be the start of the 1915 grazing season. Today cattle numbers are adjusted to take into account how much grass is available.
The short spell of warm weather during April brought hoards of people to Friars Meadow along with their associated rubbish; none of which is taken away by them for recycling and since the travellers arrived in the lorry park there is more discarded rubbish on the Valley Trail. Whilst this is going on almost everyone appears to be oblivious to the wildlife around them. Only the keenest eyes may spot the basking lizards, slow worms and grass snakes at this time of year or even spot the show of cowslips on the valley slopes opposite Friars Meadow. Overhead, buzzards often circle on the thermals of rising air. In addition a red kite put in an appearance during April and in the early evening barn owls quarter the pastures opposite Friars Meadow. The connectivity with wildlife, however, is no longer there for most people so it is all the more important that our school children come down to the riverside to see and experience at first hand the landscape and the wide variety of plants and creatures that live there. We cannot afford to turn our backs on nature for we are an integral part of it and, in the long run, entirely reliant on it.
There is still time to book a place on the two guided Gainsborough Trail Meadows Walks taking place later in the month. Details of the very extensive programme of walks around the county can be viewed and booked online via Suffolk Walking Festival 2015.