It seems incredible that only a few weeks of the current grazing season remain before all the cattle are removed from the riverside, their conservation grazing work done for another year. This year the grass continued to grow and provide an ample ‘bite’ for the stock even through August and September when cooler nights usually bring grass growth to a standstill. During those months there is usually a considerable amount of rearranging to be done in terms of reducing stock numbers to suit the availability of grass but this year only minor adjustments have been required.
As the other conservation grasslands are cut and cleared and the second thistle topping is completed thoughts turn to the coming programme of ditching, hedging and tree work. A number of willow trees have blown down or become unsafe during the summer so these need to be cut up and stacked into habitat piles. This wood affords fantastic habitat as it slowly rots down. It may look a little untidy but a tidy countryside is a sterile environment for wildlife.
John Keats wrote of autumn as the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ and with misty mornings, warm sunny afternoons and hedgerows laden with bumper crops of fruits this year is certainly living up to that poetic line. This will auger very well for the berry and seed-eating birds and small mammals as they struggle to survive through the coming colder months of the year.
Keats also penned that a good autumn lulled bees into thinking that ‘warm days will never cease’ and although they surely must, the enormous number of insects still on wing certainly bears testimony to his sharp observations of the natural world around him. In the last few days of September and early October plenty of insects including dragonflies were on wing in the warm afternoon sunshine with mating and egg laying taking place.
The Willow Emerald damselfly, first recorded in Britain in 2007, has been very much in evidence on the Sudbury riverside. The female has the unusual habit of laying her eggs in the branches of shrubs and trees overhanging water where the hatching larvae can simply drop down into their aquatic environment. As is the case with many dragonfly species, whilst the female is depositing her eggs the male continues to clasp her tightly in order to prevent another male from mating with her.