This month sees the start of the cutting and clearance of various flower-rich grasslands where timing has to take account of seed ripening. The cool and wet conditions through the second half of August did nothing to help ripen seeds so with some species, such as southern marsh orchid, the process will take a while longer. If these areas are cleared or grazed before seed ripening no recruitment to the existing population can take place and no new plants can establish.
The Sudbury Common Lands Charity has been careful with the timing of these autumn ‘hay’ cuts in order to encourage plants. If there are only a few flowering plants there will be a consequent reduction in the variety of insects present on the site. In turn this influences the number and variety of birds. Indeed most wildlife is reliant on good habitat and it is always encouraging to see how it responds in a positive way where conditions are suitable. From the countryside manager’s point of view considerable patience is required whilst these plant populations slowly increase.
A good example of the benefits of management for wildlife is recorded opposite Friars Meadow. Back in 1999 the distinctive grassland backdrop to the river harboured eighteen pyramidal orchids. The subsequent management has suited them well and numbers have increased considerably bearing in mind that eighteen orchids only produce a relatively small amount of seed for further plant production. This summer’s count, however, recorded over one thousand six hundred flowering pyramidal orchids. Providing the same management remains in place it can only be a matter for conjecture as to how many blooms there might be in five years’ time. Guided walks can be arranged for clubs and organisations to visit these flowering fields at the relevant time of year.
Of course, it is not only orchids that benefit from such management. An increasingly wide range of plants attracts a wide variety of insects and the long grass also provides ideal hunting ground for common lizards and slow-worms. Very frequently buzzards keep a beady eye out as they circle lazily high overhead; a pair reared one juvenile bird in the adjacent woodland this year. Barn owls also hunt silently over the grasslands seeking out mice and voles that thrive in the long grass habitat. There is competition, however, from stoats and weasels and in recent years brown hares have also discovered these riverside grasslands. At night foxes, badgers, deer, bats and tawny owls are all out and about.