Memories of this summer’s bone dry conditions and searing heat are already fading. The pastures have greened and the grass started to grow from the middle of August so that the livestock now has fresh green shoots to feed on. All through the season the cattle looked very well and did not lose ‘condition’. This is a testament to the value of pasture land which has not been disturbed or ploughed and where the native grasses are able to cope with the stresses and strains produced by the vagaries of the weather. Although there is still some way to go before the end of the current grazing season things are certainly looking rather more promising than they were a few weeks ago.
Our lovely Stour ‘makes’ the landscape of Sudbury although the river has seen very many changes over the centuries. During the second half of the twentieth century the various river agencies carried out an enormous amount of intervention management; dredging channels, removing in-channel vegetation weed and flailing banks until they were devoid of all growth. Most people understood that to be the way to manage rivers but all that has changed and this continues to bring criticism that nothing is being done. In terms of angling it certainly complicates the picture because, in many places, the river has so much vegetation that a rod cannot be put out. On the other hand that same vegetation helps to provide shelter and spawning areas and a much more diverse riverscape for wildlife.
The thinking behind this policy is that water flows should create a natural channel within the river allowing vegetation to colonise the margins. This may work in theory but in practice the Stour exhibits such little flow for most of the year that this doesn’t really apply so quite how the river will look in a decade or so remains to be seen. In the meantime the re-emergence of river water dropwort, flowering rush and arrow-head are all a reminder of how the river might have looked about a hundred and fifty years ago when W.W. Hodson of Sudbury delighted in the plants and wildlife that abounded there.
In addition, banks that were once bare of vegetation now have shrubs or saplings growing here and there and in due course they will cast shade and support wildlife both above and under water. Fish are benefiting in particular from this growth as was recently demonstrated by the annual Environment Agency fish survey. The bulk of the fish were found sheltering away from the heat beneath overhanging tree branches on the Sudbury Common Lands.
There is quite a range of fish in the Stour but in relatively recent years a new species arrived via the Ely Ouse transfer scheme. This year it was well represented in the Sudbury Stour, having made its slow progress downstream, although specimens are still mostly small, perhaps in part due to predation by other fish species. The common bleak is a shoaling fish feeding on a range of items which a weedy river provides including insects that fall from overhanging trees. However, it does prefer open water so may be restricted to particular locations on the river. In England it is also restricted to rivers in the east.