Reporter: Heather Coltman
This was the wide-ranging title of Adrian Walters’ illustrated talk to members at the Sudbury Society’s meeting on January 26th. It was a particularly bitter evening so it was a sign of the popularity of Adrian’s talks that so many people had braved the cold to hear him.
He began with a short history of how the Sudbury Common Lands Charity came into being in 1897 when the Freemen expressed concern about the management (or lack of it) of the water meadows and riverside. The written records for the area go back to the 12th century and there have been various changes from the original King’s Marsh land to the present. The Freemen set up a board of 16 trustees of whom 4 were Freemen who oversaw the management of an initial 115 acres, with various other blocks of land being acquired over the years. The water meadows have been grazed since at least mediaeval times and it is this which has helped to preserve them as a wildlife habitat. However, there have been times when poor management caused a decline in many species of both plants and avifauna and the more recent introduction of feral mink which almost extinguished our native water vole, ‘Ratty’of ‘Wind in the Willows’ fame. (The vole is now making a slow comeback since there has been concentrated trapping of mink).
After devastating floods in 1947 a decision was taken to straighten the river to prevent future flooding of the town but luckily later plans to build on the flood plains were abandoned. The meadows do flood after prolonged rainfall but that of course is their main function. Adrian also pointed out that as the meadows have never been fertilized they therefore support a wide range of grasses which are not only beneficial to the cattle but also insects and invertebrates.
Management of the trees along the river – particularly willow and alder is another factor in keeping the area wildlife-friendly; he mentioned that the willows have to be pollarded every few years to keep them strong, the resulting heaps of brush are not to everyone’s liking but of course they provide habitat. The trees also provide crops of wood which can be sold.
There was a sharp intake of breath when Adrian revealed that Friars Meadow (not strictly part of the Common Lands) could have ended up as a municipal rubbish tip! A source of great satisfaction was the discovery, some years ago, of Tubular Water Dropwort on the Wardman meadow. This is a nationally endangered species that is now flourishing, as are several different species of Orchid. Early Marsh Orchid having increased over the last few years from 16 individuals to 1635! Their preservation is helped by the lack of public access to that particular area. Although there is little trace now, Wardman meadow was the sight of a thriving brickworks; the remains of a chalk crushing pit being still visible.
Many other species have also been doing well including: Barn Owls – 10 young raised; buzzards which have recently started nesting; fish varieties have increased since dredging was stopped and thus provide food for Grey Herons which were rare and are now a common sight.
The above is just a taster of the many aspects of the work which Adrian and his volunteers carry out. The talk was lavishly illustrated with Adrian’s beautiful and atmospheric photographs; a reflection of the passion and unbounded enthusiasm for his job as Head Ranger for the Sudbury Riverside and Common Lands Charity.