The Water Meadow Chronicles part 6 (January 2020)

Iain Carruthers-Jones gives his latest account of BWMG work parties.  Earlier parts of the Chronicles can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Happy New Year!! The first volunteer meeting of the new year produced an excellent turnout of volunteers. All 16 were in great spirits and there was plenty of hard work as well as happy conversation (especially during the coffee break).

There had been discussion about what we would tackle during the session. It had been thought that we might be planting snowdrops but that wasn’t possible. Further, the weather we have had recently provided a fly in the ointment. You probably are all aware that the Crankles and No Man’s Meadow were under water for a few days. Both the Lark and the Linnet had the highest water levels seen in a long time and the footpaths were impassable for all but the most intrepid. The conditions would have been perfect for Which Magazine if they had been wanting to do a wellies comparison test!!

An alternative plan had been to tackle the Crankles South side. The ditch, which probably formed the first arm of the medieval fish farm, is in need of clearing. There are several boughs of various sizes spread across and along it. The level of water in the ditch rose from almost nothing to almost swimmable. The volunteers were disappointed when Jillian decided that it is a health and safety risk. The rivers are back to a reasonable level but the ground is still very wet, muddy and slippery.

So we tackled the Crankles North side which is nearest the Abbey Gardens. It was a repeat of what we were doing in the Crankles on Feb 18 last year, when we cleared the arisings and made habitat piles of the vegetation. The arisings ranged from simple dead plant material to wickedly prickly briars. One of the group was delighted to be working with briars as she has recently treated herself to a fantastic pair of gloves. She was very proud to be able to give us a demonstration of their excellence. Collectively we took out several yards of briars. They need to be separated out and disposed of away from the other arisings since they have the capacity to root from cuttings left on the ground. An extraordinary plant with good qualities but also to be handled with the greatest care.

We also worked to make sure all the trees in staked guards are alive and secure. Happily the survival rate has been high; we all agreed, however, that the planting had been rather regimental in terms of layout and single minded in tree type.

This part of the Crankles has not changed much, apart from the planting of the alder saplings, since the cricket bat willows came down in 2015/16, and there are lots of logs in various states of decay lying on the ground. All this is wonderful habitat for wildlife but we needed to take care in case of tripping and falling over. Some logs were slippery with moss and several hosted varieties of toadstool and fungus. There were signs of animal life with several nest holes; there was a reminder of animal death as well. One volunteer turned up a muntjac deer skull. It was easy to identify because the horns form part of the skull.

A couple of the volunteers went across to the east side of Crankles South and made a start on clearing the eastern end of the ditch. It was heavy going and they made a sterling effort.

From the naturalist’s perspective we can report a number of sightings during the day. A couple of egrets were seen flying over from the north end of the Crankles towards the south end of No Mans Meadow. They seem to defy the laws of physics but they are wonderful in their elegance.

Winter aconite, photo by Bengt Nyman

A roe deer was seen and a water vole colony seems to have established itself on the west bank of the Linnet near to the Premier Inn car park. A wonderful carpet of Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) could be seen at the northern tip of the North Crankle. Several wild flowers are beginning to show growth. Nearby viburnam bodnantse can be seen and smelt. A wonderful fragrance that lifts the spirits.

All in all, a very good morning’s work.

Iain Carruthers-Jones
10th January 2020

The Water Meadow Chronicles part 5 (December 2019)

Iain Carruthers-Jones shares his experiences as BWMG volunteer, with the latest Chronicle:

The mid-December (14/12/19) Watermeadows Volunteers work party assignment was a good challenge. The weather forecast was fair and it was a bit nippy. The incentive to get started was clear. More activity means that you keep warm as well as see progress, and even transformation.

The task was outlined by the group leader, Julian. The ten volunteers were to work on the east bank of the Lark moving in a northerly, down river, direction towards the red dogwood. This stretch had a lot of overgrown dead plant material and several extremely elderly elder trees. There was, as well, a considerable number of extremely thorny rambling plants ready to cling to jackets and gouge nasty scratch marks. Undaunted and having donned stout clothing and good leather gardening gloves we set-to with our secateurs, loppers and saws. We made great progress. The smaller twigs were moved by wheelbarrow to the compost heap on the west bank and the larger pieces were stacked in piles in the hope that they will be good small mammal and insect refuges. We will cross our fingers and see.

As always, a really good team esprit developed. It’s always nice to chat as well as work. Today’s session was particularly lively because we discussed the results of the general election which was held two days ago. Opinions and comments were very forthcoming about Brexit (yes or no), the pantomime of the election promises made during the last few weeks as well as the personalities of both the leading and lesser characters. It would be fair to say that plaudits were in very short supply. It will be interesting to see how things play out over the next weeks and months. Will the election promises, such as the improvement in meeting the urgent needs of the NHS services and infrastructure, be fulfilled and who will become the new leader of Labour? Even that discussion and the heavy rain we endured didn’t seem to dampen our spirits.

Something that has become evident to me is that one notices things when you are working on a small area of ground. Things you wouldn’t necessarily notice when you are out walking. Or even when you are out walking the dog and dawdling along as the dog enjoys a “sniffathon”. The former tends to give you an eye level or a horizon level perspective and the latter, at least in my case, needs a micro, ground level perspective to ensure that the dog is not eating something it shouldn’t. My dog finds it difficult just yet to tell the difference between dog biscuits and dried poo. From discussion with other dog owners, it would seem that many dogs are similarly challenged!

However, working as a volunteer allows me to look closely in the arms’ reach to medium distance range. I saw lots of buds and shoots on shrubs and trees. It looked more like early spring than early winter. I saw quite a lot of daisies in flower and I saw plenty of new growth grass and nettles. There were cow parsley shoots as well. It made me smile as I was reminded of the vision of ethereal beauty we can look forward to in the spring, especially in the Great Churchyard. Since I moved to Bury St Edmunds only earlier this year I did not know what to expect and I was transfixed.

Birds-wise, a grey heron flew past us. I am so impressed with the elegance of these birds. Flight seems to be languid and effortless. I wonder if the raised water levels in both the Lark and the Linnet will help or hinder the herons search for food? Certainly the increased flow might hinder the moorhens. They haven’t been seen around in the last few days.

In contrast, there has been a daily mid morning flypast of long tailed tits. They seem to gambol along. Twittering away to each other they fly from tree to tree seeking out food. They queue up on my fence to get to the bird feeder; I’ve seen as many as six all on the feeder at the same time. Sometimes they allow great tits, coal tits and blue tits to fly with them as well. It’s like a flying circus; it certainly brings a smile to my face.

As well as tits of various types, we enjoy robins. They seem to thrive in this area. During the volunteer session there was a robin “keeping an eye” on us. It even adopted one of the new stumps as a vantage point. Sadly I wasn’t quick enough with my camera to get a picture!

Many people seem to think that the robin is a friendly bird. It is always close by and chirpy. However, I was talking with an expert in bird behaviour recently and he was saying that they can be very territorial and aggressive both with other robins and other birds in general. In support of that idea, I witnessed some “furious flying” a few minutes ago ( Sunday, 15th Dec 14.35) . A robin was perched on the bird feeder outside my kitchen window. A flock of long tailed tits and a couple of blue tits flew in. While the robin was chasing off about five or six of them, the rest settled in to feed. When the robin returned it chased off the ones that had been feeding. This left space for the others to come back and feed. This went on for several minutes. The robin was very agitated. If I could hear in the frequency range that tits laugh, I would have been deafened.

Robin (image from http://www.gardenbirdwatching.com)

Iain Carruthers-Jones

The Water Meadow Chronicles part 4 (December 2019)

BWMG member Iain Carruthers-Jones continues his first-hand accounts of our work parties:

Getting up and looking out of the window yesterday morning I was thinking to myself that this must be the wrong day. Where the day before had been a beautiful, cloudless day, this morning (01/12/2019) was grey and unpromising. It was no surprise that it started to rain quite hard as I began to make my way to the work party meeting point in Abbey Gardens. Surely no one would notice if I didn’t appear? I had just decided that this was a rain or shine commitment when a fellow volunteer called my name and caught up with me. No turning back now. Anyway, the rain seemed to be easing a bit. And then, just as we crossed the bridge at the eastern boundary of the Gardens, a streak of turquoise went past us heading for the old bridge. That kingfisher was on some sort of mission. Blink and we would have missed it. The day was getting better by the moment.

The weather improved through the morning. By the end of the session, which was very ably led by Julian Case (pictured left, pointing), the sun was shining, we all had smiles on our faces as well as a great sense of satisfaction with our work. This session’s task involved sweeping and gathering leaves from the river bank, clearing litter, pruning back some plants, giving some plants more space to prosper in the spring and removing brambles which can rapidly smother other plants as well as cause some blood letting if you are not wearing stout leather gloves.

It would seem that along this stretch of river most leaves have fallen. We moved several big barrow loads and those lying on the grass should be moved by the council soon.

Several barrow loads of dead and dried out plant material were gathered. Their seeds have been naturally dispersed in recent weeks and new growth is already beginning to show. With reasonable weather through the winter we should see a great selection of wild flowers next year.

Some of our time was taken collecting cans and plastic bottles. It’s a pity that such an attractive area is spoiled by the carelessness of a few people and it’s to the credit of the volunteer team that they tackle this clearing work with hardly a comment.

Overall, the session was a success as always. The team worked hard and there will be a touch of stiffness later. More obviously and importantly, there was a lot of satisfaction expressed in being part of a very congenial group working to support and enhance a worthwhile cause. The feelgood effect was evident.

Iain Carruthers-Jones

The Water Meadow Chronicles part 3 (October 2019)

BWMG member Iain Carruthers-Jones continues his first-hand accounts of our work parties

Wednesday 23rd October was one of those days when the water meadows looked just about the best place to be. The sun was out and it was neither too warm nor too frosty. It was autumn at its best. A group of volunteers met at the bridge over the river Linnet at the bottom of Shirehall Way. There were fifteen of us. Our task for the day was to make our way over to the River Lark side of No Man’s Meadow to clear ground, dig some squares of earth (about 45 centimetres square for the technically minded), clear roots, remove leaves and cut grass. Then we did a light till and spread a sand and wildflower seed mix. Hopefully this is going to look lovely in the spring and early summer.

Ian Cunliffe / Yellow Rattle – Rhinanthus minor

The choice of wildflowers seeds to be sown was researched carefully. The final choice contained 23 native British wildflower species consisting of mainly perennial species designed to restore and enrich loamy riverside soil. One of the most important species being Yellow rattle which is semi parasitic on grasses. This suppresses the growth of grass so that other flowers can flourish.

As always, there was a great spirit of team effort and good humour. It was an excellent session and there was a collective sense of real satisfaction. And all that’s needed to join in is to dress as if you were going to do some gardening, wear some stout and waterproof footwear and bring a pair of gardening gloves. It’s a good idea to bring a flask of tea, coffee or water – it can be thirsty work – and there is always Polish cake and/or flapjacks for the “tea break”.

As always, too, there’s lots to chat about and plenty to see as well. There’s longer term planning to hear about and shorter term activity to get feedback about. Just yesterday we moved some turves that had been removed to make way for wildflower seed planting. It was decided to put the turves to good use rather than just pile them up. They were placed along the footpaths at the end of No Man’s Meadow where the paths near the steps have got very muddy. Just this morning I had feedback from a regular dog walker (who also happens to be a member of the Water Meadows Group) that she thought this was a brilliant idea and a great improvement. It was good to get such prompt and fulsome feedback about the Volunteers Group efforts.

I mentioned in one of the earlier Chronicles that it would seem a good idea to begin to keep a record of the wildlife that inhabits the water meadows. Obviously we are hoping that the nurturing of biodiversity will be of interest to Group members but it could also be useful when, as a newly established charity, we find ourselves eligible to apply for grants. In discussions I have had with a variety of people, it is evident that there are quite a number of animals, birds, bugs etc. Please help me with this initiative. Indeed, if someone has started to collect data, I would love to hear from them. A collaborative effort, which might include several people, would be an excellent way to move forward.

Yesterday, while we were beavering away as a group of volunteers, we took time to enjoy the view of the water meadows in its autumnal glory. We also saw an egret, several fieldfares and redwings, a grey heron and a buzzard being mobbed by crows. As always, there was a robin about as well.

By Joe Pell – Tawny Owl, CC BY 2.0

In recent weeks I have had reports of kingfishers (near the bridge over the Linnet), adders ( a neighbour’s dog was severely bitten; it needed to stay over with a local vet. It appeared to be well on the way to recovery but has subsequently died) and a tawny owl. I have been tantalisingly close to the owl on several occasions but not yet managed to see it. Earlier this week a vole was seen on the bank of the Linnet near to the bridge and several people have reported seeing bats. At least two types of bat have been spotted. Would it be a good idea to put up bat boxes? And just yesterday I saw a large flock of long tailed tits scurrying from tree to tree.

Several months ago I saw deer and at night, in season, there was plenty of deer noise to be heard around the Crankles. Plenty of squirrels have been seen, too. With regard to fish, I have heard that sticklebacks have been seen in the Lark. Have any other types of fish been seen?

If you would like to let me know of sightings you have made or if you would like to be involved collaboratively in our survey and recording work, please contact me via email.

The Water Meadows Chronicles part 2 (October 2019)

BWMG member and work party volunteer Iain Carruthers-Jones writes:

I was reading an article the other evening in Country Living (July 2019). It was written by a man called Joe Harkness and it was entitled Wings of Hope. His central question was “Can birdwatching benefit our mental health?”  He had had a breakdown a few years ago and, going for a walk near his home in Norfolk, he had seen a buzzard soaring above the trees. This sight had a deep emotional impact on him and it was the starting point for his recovery. In his book, Bird Therapy, he describes his recovery and the role that birds have played. He advises that it isn’t just the sighting of birds that is important but hearing the sounds as well.

It is a heartwarming story but, you ask, how is that relevant to you or me? Well, within the Water Meadows we have the opportunity to enjoy a whole soundscape. We are all aware of the history of this area and what a history it has been. We are all aware of the beauty. We see the wonderful colour palate of nature with the changing seasons. And yet I wonder how many of us are aware of the sounds of the Water Meadows? What about the slither of the adders, the buzz of the bees and the calls of the birds?

Despite my last blog’s mention of the six o’clock dog, most dog walkers have quiet, well behaved dogs. So they too should be able to hear the sounds of nature. How many birds are there in this area and how many different types? I have heard quite a few but seen fewer and recognised still fewer ; perhaps I have not taken enough time yet. I’m working on learning to identify by sound and I don’t always have my binoculars and camera to hand. What I do know, though, is that I get a huge amount of pleasure from listening. Several evenings recently, for example, I have heard the call of an owl. Almost certainly a Barn Owl. Is it alone ? I don’t know but I can say that its call is haunting.

Some weeks ago I saw a bird on our bird feeder which I thought I recognised. But it was a little too big for a blue Tit and the tail was a little too long. Out came my bird book; I had seen my first Yellow Wagtail. Wow!

Yellow wagtail“Yellow wagtail” by jans canon is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Several people have seen the egret. Perhaps there are more than one but I can report only one in the last few months. It is the large white bird which has been seen wading in the River Linnet. It has also been seen at the south end of No Man’s Meadow as well. But no one has reported hearing it or, indeed, seeing a pair this year (see video taken last year, from the Crankles).

I can report having seen robins, wrens, blackbirds, blue tits, coal tits and long tailed tits. And, of course, pigeons as well as mallards, moorhens, pheasants and magpies.

It would be good to hear of any other sightings, especially of hawks, owls and birds of passage. The big migration south is underway. I would like to keep a record of sightings (and hearings) so that we can keep track of bird and animal life and I would welcome all the help I can get. I can be contacted through the website.

Going back to the egret I mentioned three paragraphs ago, I was talking with another member of the Volunteers group last Saturday (5th October); he was telling me that in recent years there have been as many as four egrets on the Water Meadows and No Mans’ Meadow. I wonder if there is any significance in this decline?

We had a very successful Volunteer Group activity last Saturday. There was no rain. Thank goodness we did not have the activity the following day since we would have been washed out. As it was, it was warm and pleasant. The nine volunteers set to and we completed our goals. First, there was a tool sharpening exercise using the new tools. That was energetic and the results were satisfying and effective. Second, we cleared the Water Meadow of the material we had cut a couple of weeks ago and left to dry out a bit. It was stacked up a couple of yards away from the path that runs alongside the River Linnet. As we emptied the wheelbarrows it became obvious that we had helped a lot of invertebrates move home as well. Hundreds of tiny spiders as well as centipedes, earwigs and others too numerous to count, or even identify, moved on to inhabit the newly created compost pile. In a tree nearby, a robin gave us a round of music. How can such a small bird generate such melody and volume?

Apparently a wicker fence will be built to contain the mountain of material later this year. Aesthetically, it will be attractive as well as functional. We are looking forward to getting a lesson in willow fence making at the same time.

The Water Meadow Chronicles part 1 (September 2019)

BWMG member Iain Carruthers-Jones writes about his experiences of volunteering on our work parties.

Bark, bark, bark, bark! I come to and wake with a sigh. It’s the six o’clock dog. He’s loving his walk in the Water Meadows and seems to be just barking. Unfortunately, my bedroom window is within 25 yards of the path alongside the Linnet where he and his human companion walk and I have no option but to enjoy his joy too. To be fair, it’s not always 6 o’clock. Sometimes it is 6.15 and sometimes he has been either fitted with a silencer or his owner is running late and has not the time to walk Barky.

Why does the dog bark then? There’s no other dogs; no reciprocal barking. Anthropomorphising, I guess it’s just joie de vivre. Have you walked through the Water Meadows in the early morning? If I were a dog, I would probably bark as well. It’s lovely, especially when the sun is coming up and you can see the spiders’ webs and the grass glistening with dew. Perhaps because of its long history, it is easy to pick up a sense of peace and serenity. What was it like for the monks coming to the Crankles all those years ago?

As a member of the Bury Water Meadows Group, soon hopefully to become a registered charity, one is supportive of the restoration of the Water Meadows and the two rivers, the Lark and the Linnet. Some Members have committed to go a step further and become part of the volunteer groups who help actively to manage the vegetation and the rivers. This work is done in association with the council under the leadership of Jillian Macready.

It might be interesting to update all Water Meadows Group members on the work being done by the volunteers. Perhaps it will encourage some members to become volunteers as well? That would be wonderful. So this is the first of a number of fairly regular posts. New (and young) blood would be great but all are welcome; there is so much we can do.

The two recent working parties’ output was clear to see. The first (Sunday, 8th September) concentrated on cutting back the faded meadow which had flowered in the Crankles. The second (Saturday, 21st September) involved the gathering up the cut vegetation, as much as possible, that had hopefully shed its seed back into the meadow as well as having dried out in the two weeks since the first working party. A second group worked in No Mans Meadow starting to clear thistles and nettles. Both days were hot, and it was thirsty work. The “tea breaks” were very welcome, especially since cake was on offer. There was a great sense of camaraderie (the chat and laughter level was high) and a sense of achievement was palpable. Thank you to all who took part.

AGM 7th November 2019

Notice of Bury Water Meadows Group AGM
Thursday 7th November 2019
Quaker Meeting House at 7pm

Members only

Richard Summers, representing the River Lark Catchment Partnership, will present a River Lark Corridor strategy, which is a contribution towards the next round of planning in West Suffolk, to help safeguard our green spaces for future generations. Richard will also present a short round up of what’s happening at the Abbey of St Edmund Heritage Partnership.

This will be followed by the AGM, after which a mulled cup and mince pies will be served.

Agenda: Final AGM for Bury Water Meadows Group (small charity)

1 Chairman’s Report

2 Treasurer’s Report

3 Reports for in-channel and bankside/water meadow work

4 AOB

NOTE: At this point the Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) will become active. Initial governance of the new CIO until the first AGM will be by the founding trustees approved by the Charity Commission:

Stephen Brunner
Ian Campbell
Andrew Hinchley
Jillian Macready
Mike Palmer
Libby Ranzetta

Extraordinary General Meeting 18th July 2019

7pm, Thursday 18th July
St John’s Centre, St Johns St, Bury St Edmunds (almost immediately opposite our usual venue)

Members only

Agenda
1.    Bury Water Meadows Group (BWMG) now
2.    The limitations of being an unincorporated association
3.    Why change to become a formal charitable organisation?
4.    What are the options?
5.    What are the implications of changing?
6.    Proposed objects for the future organisation
7.    Proposed new BWMG constitution
8.    The Resolutions : At the request of the BWMG Committee, the following

Special Resolutions are proposed:
1) That Bury Water Meadows Group apply to be registered as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) with the Charity Commission.
2) That the new Constitution be submitted with the application as the CIO governing document.
3) That once the CIO is registered and its details entered in the register of charities then the existing Bury Water Meadows Group is wound up and its assets, including its bank account are transferred to the new CIO.

March 3rd work party report – more scrub clearance

Jillian Macready writes: We are now in meteorological spring as opposed to astronomical spring which is worked out according to when the equinox falls, and this is more complicated. Meteorological spring on the other hand simply follows the calendar months, so March, April and May are Spring. This is a time of rebirth re-greening and optimism, so it just didn’t feel right, at the end of February 2019, to be experiencing almost high summer temperatures but with no green leaves, flowers or butterflies! What a difference a year makes though; this time in 2018 we were cowering from the Beast from the East or getting the snow sledge out of the garage. For 2019, we are back to something approaching normal and we had welcome rain last week, though perhaps never welcome on the morning of a work party! However, I take my hat off to all those who turned up and that was most of those who said they would, on a rainy Sunday morning to continue the scrub clearance along the Lark path between the Crankles and the Abbey Gardens.

The idea of clearing scrub and taking down some of the trees is to let in the light to the river which becomes shadowed by overhanging trees and clogged up by fallen trunks. Though fallen trees can also stimulate a faster flow when it restricts the area the water has to flow; the faster water has more power and takes the silt and mud downstream with it leaving the gravel bed exposed. This is important for fish spawning, especially river trout which are very loyal to their place of birth and will disappear if the habitat is degraded. Much river restoration has been done so far along stretches of the Lark to try to speed up the water, provide habitat for wildlife and created conditions for fish to thrive.
Dominant species such as stinging nettles and brambles (though good in many ways) have been allowed to take over on the path to the Abbey Gardens.

In 2016 Graham Maynard, a former Abbey Gardens head gardener planted 6 or 8 European White Elms by the confluence of the River Lark and River Linnet, and these were overcome by brambles, having not been touched for some time, so this was another prickly job tackled on Sunday. If the grass verges are managed for conservation and mown at a time good for the plant species rather than when the council has time (or complaints from the residents!), native herbs and wildflowers will be able to make a comeback among the grass and where there are bare patches which expose the natural seedbank. So the work on the bank and path on Sunday would have cleared the way for the seedbank to regenerate.