Whilst the days may still be sunny and warm, the evenings are shortening noticeably, and fleeting summer is already drawing to a close, and along with it another grazing season, will be coming to an end next month. Grazing holds the key to the management of the riverside pastures, and we have the historical records to prove that the grazing of livestock has taken place for over eight hundred years. Such continuity in the twenty-first century is nothing short of a miracle.
It was the Freemen of Sudbury who, by exercising their grazing rights, ensured that these riverside lands did not succumb to post-war twentieth century intensive agriculture. The notion that one could walk the entire Stour valley through flowery meadows and pastures before the Second World War, as described by Julian Tennyson, the grandson of Alfred Lord Tennyson, is one that we can only dream about nowadays. His book, Suffolk Scene, carries a photograph of a very small and tranquil Sudbury taken from Ballingdon Hill. Such loss of damp habitat also meant the loss of wildlife including breeding wading birds such as snipe, lapwing, and redshank. William Payne in ‘The Birds of Suffolk’ records that ‘redshank bred inland as far as Sudbury’ into the 1960s while snipe nested in the Stour valley as well as in all of its tributary valleys.
It is now very clear through scientific research, that right from the outset, the role of Homo sapiens, was one of immense destruction of the amazing wildlife on our planet. As he spread out from Africa, to colonise every corner of the earth, extinctions of the megafauna soon followed. We worry that our generation is responsible for the sixth extinction of wildlife, but our very distant ancestors were also busy driving a whole range of large animals and birds to extinction, so the process has been going on for millennia. It seems to be the way we are, although Neanderthal man appeared to live alongside all that wildlife.
Are we now at a stage where the tide will turn, and we will really see an increase in habitats for our wildlife? Of course, it is not possible to bring back all those extinct species but providing for what remains should be a duty on our ‘educated’ society. However, it requires a huge ‘mind set’ change, which will help the planet and, ultimately, help ourselves to survive on Earth so that we go extinct naturally rather than through our own agent.
While we live in a very rapidly changing world one thing that we can be fairly sure about is that the cattle will return at the beginning of the grazing season in 2022. This will continue the very ancient tradition of floodplain habitat management by cattle, which are the living descendants of wild aurocks which went extinct in Britain around three thousand years ago. However, with the riverside meadows being very busy with people and dogs we shall not be seeing the return of breeding waders any time soon.