Many people enjoy the Sudbury riverside and see it uniquely as a place of informal recreation for walking the dog, picnicking, boating on the river, cycling, feeding the ducks and so on. They rarely give any thought to the economic purpose of that same area which has evolved over many centuries and continues is one form or another today.
The most obvious and yet underestimated use is that of livestock grazing. Some people refer to the Sudbury Common Lands as a park in the sense of an urban park but the grazing cattle ought to provide a clue to the fact that they are, in fact, farmland and have been for centuries, a timeless tradition that continues to ensure an open riverside landscape to be appreciated and treasured.
Elsewhere on the riverside there are others who have an economic interest. This interest is in willows. For years at a time this business is unobtrusive and unobserved. Willow sets are planted and then, apart from the removal of side-shoots, are left to grow for seventeen years or so. Eventually the mature trees are harvested ready for splitting into clefts for making cricket bats and at this stage it is understandable that people worry about what is taking place.
While the Sudbury Common Lands Charity grows very few bat willows, there are areas of the riverside that are still important for the production of this crop. Indeed the climate in East Anglia is the best in the world for the production of cricket bat willow.
In the coming weeks a harvesting cycle will take place on private land at the Priory Fishery and on the Cornard riverside. Contractors will be operating heavy machinery and inevitable there will be the noise of chainsaws and other equipment. Trees will be felled, top-wood stacked and where possible burned and the trunks removed. In addition trees that are infected by ‘water-mark’ have to be felled and burned to control the spread of the disease. Such felling operations tend to be fast and furious and areas can look devastated but this is nothing new, rather it is merely another phase in the cycle of cricket bat willow growing that has been in place for the past seventy years. In the meantime there will be short-term inconvenience while the work takes place.