The first reference to these ancient pastures dates back to the 12th Century when the right to graze four cows and twenty sheep was given to the Hospital of St John next to Ballingdon Bridge.
In about 1260 Richard de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford confirmed the grazing rights of the Freeman of Sudbury.
Parts of the common lands have the longest record of continuous grazing in East Anglia – stretching back more than 800 years. The pastures provide feed for fattening cattle in the summer months before they are removed in the autumn.
Sudbury’s most famous son, the 18th Century artist Thomas Gainsborough would have looked out on a scene much as you see today. His family were Freemen of the Commons and grazed their horse on the pastures.
Cattle grazing over centuries has created a specific lowland pasture that supports a distinctive ecology with vegetation at different heights – making it suitable for a wide range of wildlife in different habitats.
Since the late 1980s many ditches and ponds have been restored and these now provide a suitable habitat for a range of plants including flowering rush, tubular water-dropwort and round-fruited rush.
In times of excessive winter rainfall, the Common Lands flood and the meadows become a wonderful waterscape attracting gulls and waterfowl.
Unlike many communities where flooding has become a common problem, Sudbury is lucky to have this natural temporary reservoir that holds water until the river drains away the excess. It is crucial such natural features are retained.