All around on the water meadows there are signs that we have made it through what has felt like a very long winter.
It is there in the blackthorn’s frothy white blossom, which appears slightly before its leaves; in the frogspawn in the ponds and ditches on the Common Lands; and the friskiness of the hares on the fields towards Borley.
All manner of birds tell me change is afoot. The early morning song of the blackbird celebrates the coming of better weather; on the Valley Trail, the piercing chirp of the blackcap – the Nightingale of the North – provides further clues as does the increased activity of jackdaws on Friars Meadow as they patch up their nests.
More indications of the shift in seasons can be seen in the arrival of insects who all but disappear during the cold months. Bumblebees busy themselves at ground level, searching for early sources of nectar; while the Brimstone – a harbinger of Spring – its yellow, buttery colour said to be why butterflies are so called, flits around ivy stands.
It is a wonderful time of year, an end to the dreary and dark. And just as nature is waking up, so we are emerging, blinking into the light, after a lockdown of inactivity.
As the weather improves, it is likely that many of us will make for the riverside, to enjoy the sun and nature at its best. Few towns are as lucky as Sudbury to have such natural bounties on their doorstep and more people than ever are making a conscious decision to spend time among it.
But with this privilege comes a responsibility to look after this special place.
There is a concept, which economists (please bear with me) call the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’. It describes a situation where people have open access to a resource, such as the Common Lands, but are unhampered by formal rules that govern access and use. As a result, they act independently according to their own self-interest and, contrary to the common good of all users – this causes depletion of the resource through their uncoordinated action.
Heavy stuff, I know, but I’ve been thinking of this a lot lately.
There have been several triggers.
One came a few months ago when we received reports of a dog attacking a swan on the meadows, something that happens several times every year.
Another trigger occurred more recently when some homeowners who live near the Common Lands took it upon themselves to cut down some trees and remove some hedge on the meadows, presumably to improve their view.
The idea of the Tragedy of the Commons reared its head again after a spell of hot weather at the end of March saw people gather on Friars Meadow and leave behind a whole lot of bottles and plastic scattered across the space.
Why do things like this happen? Not through malice, I would argue.
Maybe the dog owner wasn’t paying attention, as their pet went too near a cob swan who will stand its ground if it thinks its family or territory are threatened.
Perhaps, our neighbours, thinking only of their outlook, dismantled a hedge situated on a nature reserve during the nesting season believing no-one would miss a few trees.
Could it be that those who came out to enjoy a balmy evening after months indoors got giddy with excitement and forgot to pick up their trash? Or thought that taking it home with them was somehow beneath them?
This isn’t meant to be a rant – no one likes one of them. Rather, it’s a plea.
The age-old laws governing the Common Lands are unenforceable in this age of civil liberty. Rather, their beauty and special character depends on all of us acting responsibly when we visit. This may mean curbing our own selfish desires or even going out of our way, such as picking up litter someone else has dropped.
It’s down to us all to look after what we hold dear. Let’s do it.