The charity's Riverside Projects Team members meet to carry out conservation and amenity work on Sudbury's incomparable riverside. Yesterday (Tuesday 10th May) was one such day. Work commenced on improving access from the Valley Trail to Friars Meadow adjacent to the bridge over the Quay Cut. This is business in progress and the team shifted twenty tonnes of hardcore by hand to improve the area by replacing the steps and providing hard surface access to Friars Meadow. In the past this was always particularly muddy during the winter. The work is being carried out on behalf of Babergh Council.
Whist waiting for the second delivery of hardcore the group walked down the riverside to admire the Early Marsh Orchids (Dactylorhiza incarnata) which are now beginning to flower. The colour variation of these orchids is marvellous to behold. Specimens of the typical pale pink coloured 'incarnata' are dotted amongst deeper pink and purple (possibly ssp. pulchella) flowers. In the autumn the team will be there to clear the cut hay from the site that ensures the orchids continue to have a habitat that meets their exacting requirements.
In spite of the continuing drought, the peaty soil that the orchids grow in still retains some moisture so it is to be hoped that they will survive to seed and add to the future plant population. A decade ago there was just a handful of flowering plants. This year over six hundred and thirty blooms are dotted about the pasture proving that current management is well suited to this species.
Last year a single Early Marsh Orchid also flowered in the conservation grassland on Friars Meadow. Sadly it survived only a week before disappearing. This year a further two plants have appeared and it remains to be seen how long they survive on this busy recreational site! The point is, however, that following fifteen years of hay meadow management this small area of Friars Meadow now provides a suitable habitat for these beautiful orchids.
We shall take a close look at all these wonderful plants on the Education Day on Saturday 21st May. The day will look at aspects of the Heritage, Landscape and Wildlife of the Sudbury riverside. As it is a fund-raising exercise for the charity as well as an enjoyable day out there is a twenty five pound charge to include a buffet lunch and guided walks in the morning and afternoon.
On completion of the day's work on the ramp a large grass snake (Natrix natrix) passed within a couple of feet of two team members. It was clearly oblivious to human presence as is crossed the newly laid hardcore and disappeared from view in to the ditch-side vegetation. Another magical wildlife moment!