Some reasonable weather over the Christmas period gave people plenty of opportunity to get out and enjoy the riverside. With the march of the ever changing seasons there is always something to see for those who wish for something more than just a brisk walk.
For the past twenty years winter work has included slubbing out the ditches that have been restored since 1987. This is simply the careful rotational clearing of watercourses using a JCB to ensure that they remain full of water throughout the year and thus support the maximum amount of wildlife. This includes some species for which the Sudbury riverside has become noted. This winter the work was carried out in the run-up to Christmas taking advantage of the long dry autumn which ensured that ground conditions were absolutely perfect.
In order to reduce costs this work is currently taking place every other year. Common sense suggests that the excavated mud should be avoided although there is always the temptation for those wearing wellies to check it out. The mud soon dries and vegetation very quickly colonises the new spoil.
Although the Sudbury Common Lands are almost always busy with people and dogs nowadays, snipe still find some suitable feeding areas along the ditches. They have the habit of hunkering down when anything comes into the vicinity and only explode skywards if and when the disturbance comes to within a few feet. The birds find plenty of food in the soft mud and ditch edge soil which they probe with their long flexible bills. During the clearance work on Freemen’s Great Common the JCB bucket put up a couple of these birds.
The work produces a matrix of clear open water needed by most dragonfly species and some heavily vegetated areas which provide cover for water voles and grass snakes. In England the grass snake is now a priority conservation species because it is rapidly declining but on our riverside it continues to thrive. During the summer the snakes can be seen sunning themselves near thick vegetation which affords them protective cover when disturbed. They are almost always misidentified by walkers who for some reason immediately assume that they are venomous adders.