Biodiversity surveying

We are building up a record of species found in the water meadows through systematic survey. Iain Carruthers-Jones leads this work and would be pleased to welcome new volunteers to the biodiversity surveying team. Contact Iain if you are interested.

Photo: Greater Spotted Woodpecker on the Crankles, by Jillian Macready

Monthly Reports on species observed in the water meadows :

Biodiversity survey in the Bury Watermeadows in 2022

The 2022 survey year started in February; for the first time it was planned to survey through the winter. This has been a success  and monthly observation summaries have been posted on the Bury Water Meadows Group website. All records have been uploaded to iRecord as well. 

We started the year with three members of the survey team. We had a recruitment drive in the local press in the early spring and had a terrific response. At the end of the year we now have 12 team members. This has become a wonderful opportunity in two ways. Firstly, we have extended our survey area. To begin with we covered Ram Meadow, North and South Crankles and No Mans Meadow. Now we are able to cover, as well, Ram Meadow East, Abbey Gardens, the Great Churchyard, Saxon Gate Nature reserve, the Butts and Harp Meadow. The second opportunity has been to take advantage of the expertise and enthusiasm that the new tranche of volunteers has brought to our work. At the  beginning of the year our focus was on birds, butterflies, moths, mammals and plants. Our focus has extended to insects, invertebrates and fungi. We had hoped to include bats as well; this initiative will get underway in 2023.

In practical terms this means that we were able to record data from an average of 16 hours of observation work a month at the beginning of the year to an average of  64 hours of observation per month by the end of the year. This includes more than 50 hours of fieldwork and more than 14 hours of data processing and reporting work per month. 

The bird boxes commissioned in 2021 became available in the early spring. The owl boxes have not yet been successfully occupied by owls; neither have the kestrel boxes been successfully occupied. It may be that our large population of corvids has been a disincentive.

We can report that we seem to have a year round resident population of quite a number of bird species. These include wrens, robins, blackbirds, pigeons, mallards, moorhens, little egrets, kingfishers, woodpeckers, wagtails and tits (blue, coal, great and long-tailed). We have a large year-round population of corvids, including magpies, as well. They have been seen to bully other species  and be territorial so there is ambivalence about their growing numbers. They have been seen to mob barn owls and kestrels. Magpies have been seen, as well, to harass and drive off a great spotted woodpecker which was trying to nest in a high tree beside the river Linnet in the South Crankles. This was the second year running that this happened.

Raptors seen this year include buzzards, kestrels and a few red kites. None have nested in the Water Meadows, as far as we know, but there are reports of red kites nesting in a couple of locations within 5 miles of Bury in the direction of Lackford Lakes, which is a Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserve. A sparrowhawk has been seen nesting at the south end of the River Lark path before the path reaches the A134. However, no fledglings have been reported.

More specifically, we recorded 19 species of birds in January 2022. We saw two types of gull (black headed and common), both types of woodpecker (green and greater spotted) as well as corvids (crows, jackdaws, magpies and rooks) and water birds such as mallards and moorhens. 

In February we recorded 32 different species. As well as our regular population of robins, wrens, blackbirds etc. we recorded lots of tits (blue, coal, great and longtail), chiffchaffs, treecreepers and wagtails. And as well as the two types of gulls seen in January, we saw lesser black-backed and herring gulls. We also recorded our first snipe. 

In March there was another increase in reported sightings (44). Numbers were boosted by our first cuckoo, sightings of kingfishers, chaffinch, greenfinch, mistle thrush, nuthatch, sparrows and even a skylark as well as a common tern.

Numbers were boosted still further in April (46). Chaffinches, a garden warbler, a jay and a whitethroat were added to the list. Additionally, we had our first sighting of a red kite. High up but unmistakable it was not seen to land. It may have been one of the kites that nest downstream and north of the water meadows in the area of Lackford Lakes.

Slightly fewer sightings were reported in May (41). However, we recorded our first blackcaps, bullfinches, goldfinches and a goldcrest. 

Numbers were up again in June (43). The first swallows appeared. What a joy they are. We saw our first yellowhammer, too. 

And numbers were up again in July ( 46). The greatest excitement was the sighting of a barn owl. Also in July there were plenty of swifts, swallows and willow warblers. It felt like summer was at its peak.

There were 44 different species listed in August. Fieldfares, siskins and swans were reported for the first time in the year. The cygnet stayed after the adults departed. It was not seen for a period of about six weeks at the end of the year. The weather was very cold in December and early January 2023 and we were anxious for its safety. However, it has reappeared and it is seen daily around the Abbey Gardens bridge over the river Lark. 

In September species types and numbers began to fall. Two  species of note were seen ; a spotted flycatcher and a grey heron. The total number of species recorded was 36.

The same number of species were recorded in October. Buzzards and kestrels were seen but there were no sparrowhawk and red kite sightings. Greylag geese and a barn owl were seen. While the latter was probably relatively local, it is probable that the greylags were on their way from somewhere to somewhere else.

Forty two different species were seen in November. Three types of owl were seen – barn, tawny and long-eared. Red-legged partridge and redwing were recorded. A cormorant caught us all by surprise and there were several sparrowhawk sightings. It was probably the same bird several times . 

December was a fierce month weatherwise and healthwise. At least two observers were unwell but nonetheless 35 species were recorded. Buzzards, kestrels and sparrowhawks patrolled the Water Meadows. They were probably lean days prey-wise. Moorhens and a flotilla of mallards patrolled the rivers. However, they tend to congregate at the Abbey Gardens Lark bridge. It’s a good place for children to ‘ throw bread to the ducks’.

Corvids are evident in many different locations across the Water Meadows year round. Additionally, hundreds of corvids can be seen to overfly the Water Meadows daily. Having roosted, in all probability, in the Sicklesmere/Nowton area, they head north  at dawn – destination unknown. In the late afternoon they head south. It’s a vast congregation of corvids.

Butterflies are rarely seen before March and 2022 was no exception. Brimstones, commas, peacocks, orange tips and red admirals were seen in March with much the same being seen in April. In May the numbers increased. Brimstone, cabbage white, garden white, meadow brown, orange tip, painted lady, peacock, red admiral, small blue, small white and tortoiseshell were seen as well as cinnabar moth, common nettletop moth and plume moths.

In June more were spotted. Brown argus, cabbage whites, comma, garden white, large white, meadow brown, orange tip, painted lady, peacock, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, small white, speckled wood and tortoiseshell were reported.  Cinnabar moth and poplar grey moths were also reported. 

In July a similar number was reported. They included brimstone, cabbage white, comma, garden white, gatekeeper, large white, meadow brown, orange tip, painted lady, peacock, red admiral, small white and tortoiseshell. Cinnabar moths were also reported. 

In August ringlets and small copper butterflies were seen as well. And there was excitement to report hummingbird hawk moths too.  By September, numbers dropped and from then on there were occasional whites and one or two red admirals. 

The range of mammals seen during the year was limited. The most controversial are the muntjac deer. They tend to be timid  but a few skirmishes with dogs have been reported. The dogs have been ‘off lead’  and have given chase. When cornered  the deer can be very aggressive and, apparently, never come off worse.

Muntjac deer have been reported in all parts of the Water Meadows throughout the year. It is difficult, without further research, to assess numbers but it would seem that the size of the population is growing. The greatest concentration appears to be in Ram Meadow. One observer reported seeing 30 deer there. 

They are browsers, picking leaves and buds off young trees and bushes, eating bramble, ivy, flowers and vegetables in neighbouring allotments (Cotton Lane and Raingate St). Does are capable of breeding at seven months old. After a gestation period of seven months, they give birth to a single fawn and are ready to mate again within a few days. .In 2023 we are working with deer expert Rob Jackson to site a few small ‘exclosures’ in the water meadows to identify the impact of deer browsing.  We will be able to compare patches that deer have browsed, with those they have been excluded from.”  

There is a very healthy population of grey squirrels. 

Voles and brown rats are seen frequently, especially near to both the river Lark and the river Linnet. Hedgehogs are seen only rarely. 

There is a healthy population of moles given the number of fresh molehills seen throughout the year. 

Our study and recording of insects started in the spring of 2022. Our first reports were in March when ants, buff tailed bees, bumble bees, carder bees and ladybirds were spotted. In April we recorded sightings of ground beetles, european honey bees and mossy rose gall wasps. 

In May our insect count went up to 30. Different types of bees, chasers, damselflies, sawflies, ladybirds and beetles were recorded. In June the count went up to 37, including 9 types of bee, five sorts of ladybird, five sorts of snail, a variety of slugs and five types of fly. In July the insect count rose to 45 and in August to 52. By then we had counted 14 types of fly as well as demoiselles, hawkers and dragonflies. We counted, as well, cardinal beetles, false oil beetles, red soldier beetles, field digger wasps, marmalade hoverflies and St Marks flies. In September the “stand out” spots were  a stag beetle and a crowned orb weaver (Araneus diadematus). This spider species is commonly called the European garden spider, diadem spider, orangie, cross spider as well as crowned orb weaver. It is sometimes called the pumpkin spider, although this name is also used for a different species, Araneus marmoreus. This information  (from Wikipedia) is included to illustrate the complexity of identification. It is a fascinating but painstaking process.

There are certainly many more insect types yet to be identified in the Water Meadows. Michael Chinery wrote in the Collins Complete Guide to British Insects that ‘ there are 20,000 or so British species of insect’. So our journey is just beginning. It is a fascinating challenge and for all our volunteer observers, including myself, the learning curve is very steep.

Plant identification is another steep learning challenge. The brief is to record each plant which is in flower. In January 2022 we recorded aconites, crocus, snowdrops, purple deadnettle and violets. In February we added daisy, hazel catkins and narcissus to the list. By March we recorded 35 species of plants in flower. This included blackthorn, comfrey, cowslips, cow parsley, three sided garlic and ivy leaved toadflax.

By the end of March and through April the cow parsley was in flower in the Great Churchyard. The sea of white flowers drew many admiring comments.

In April reported sightings jumped to 74. May’s sightings reached 96, June’s reached 121 and July’s reached 145. Our year’s peak was 176 in August.

This data comes as no surprise to many but what is surprising is how many times people have said to me that the Great Churchyard and the Water Meadows are covered in nettles and this should be tidied up. While there are patches of nettles, it is known that nettles are host to a number of caterpillars and invertebrates as well as provide shelter and protection for ground nesting birds. They have their place.

Our second greatest challenge this year has been in fungi identification. In September, we identified six different types of fungus. In October we counted ten different types  and in November we hit a high of 25 different fungi and lichens. Common names included brittlestems, clouded agaric, bleeding fairy helmets, blushing wood, shaggy ink caps, sulphur tufts, toothed jelly fungus and stubble rosegill.

In last year’s report, the planning of the Bioblitz was mentioned. A two day event took place towards the end of May. It was a huge team effort; a great combination of volunteers, expert scientists and naturalists worked with pupils from three local schools and teachers. The second day was open to members of the public, as well. The purpose was to connect with nature and discover as many species of plants, animals, birds and insects as possible. Despite mixed weather it was a great success. There was huge enthusiasm and engagement. Not only children but parents and other adults involved themselves; the ‘smile factor’ was very high. It is intended  that the Bioblitz will become an annual event.

Another highlight of the year has been the recognition of our volunteers’ efforts. We won a Gold Award in the Wildlife and Conservation Category of the Anglia in Bloom competition. Just recognition of our volunteers’ efforts.

Iain Carruthers-Jones

Bury Water Meadows Biodiversity Survey 2021 annual report

The Bury Water Meadows survey area was increased in size this year. As well as Ram Meadow, the Crankles (north and south) and No Mans Meadow we decided to include the Great Churchyard and the Butts. The former turned out to be very fruitful from a plants perspective, especially around the Charnel House. There was, as well, an exciting late addition to the survey area in the form of several hectares of land adjacent to Ram Meadow. Occupied by members of the travelling community until the summer, we have only begun to survey the area. Our preliminary investigations have led us to think that this will be a really interesting addition to our survey portfolio.

Although this report covers 2021, it would be incomplete if the last week of 2020 was not included as well. “Adverse weather” left the Water Meadows underwater; we woke on the morning of Christmas Eve to find that both the Lark and the Linnet had overflowed their banks. The Crankles and No Mans Meadow were completely flooded. We were very concerned about burrowing mammals but as the water subsided there was little evidence of drownings. On the positive side we found that our resident population of one or two egrets had expanded overnight to six. Plus a heron or two. It was a delight to see them wading and feeding. We do not know where they came from but they were with us for many weeks. We rather suspect that a couple of the visitors decided to stay but we have not seen any fledglings.

We had plenty of gulls throughout the year as well. There have been quite a number of Blackheaded and Common gulls. There have been Herring gulls too; ICJ witnessed a wonderfully noisy stand-off one early summer’s morning between a Herring gull and a sparrowhawk. The gull, perched on a chimney pot, gave an open winged display and an aural onslaught while the sparrowhawk perched, apparently cowed, on a branch in the heart of a tree about 20 feet away.

Owing to the Covid restrictions, our survey season did not start until March. The observers got off to a flying start (pardon the pun) and they saw as many different types of bird in the month (45) as were seen in the whole of last year.

Through the year there were regular sightings of smaller birds such as wrens, robins, treecreepers, thrushes and blackbirds. There have been frequent sightings of kingfishers and woodpeckers (greater spotted and green). Pigeons have been commonplace, as have larger birds such as magpies, rooks, crows and mallards. Sadly, no swans have nested this year. For a short while it looked like a pair might nest. They arrived, looked over several nest location possibilities and moved on.

Corvids (crows, rooks, magpies) are everyday sightings throughout the year. Occasionally, jays are seen, too. Corvids appear to be the biggest residents and they crowd together being both noisy and territorial.

We are overflown by other groups of corvids (too high to be sure whether they are crows or rooks but probably the former) every day. Around eight in the morning, hundreds fly north; around dusk, they fly south – probably to roost.

We had regular sightings of kestrels, buzzards and sparrowhawks together with occasional sightings of red kites. We had only one sighting of a barn owl despite it being, what many have described as, “classic barn owl territory”.
There have been “hearings” (as opposed to sightings) of a tawny owl in the South Crankles at night in December 2021.

Recently a decision has been made to erect two owl boxes and two kestrel boxes in the Water Meadows. Hopefully they will be occupied in time for next year’s breeding season.

Overall, our observers recorded a total of 53 different types of bird between March and October. More detailed, month by month listings can be found on the Bury Water Meadows Group website in the Biodiversity Surveying section.

In March both green woodpeckers and greater spotted woodpeckers were seen. The latter were frequent in the woodland at the junction of South Crankles and No Mans Meadow. There may have been an attempt at nesting but we witnessed a harassment attack by magpies who were themselves harassed by crows. The greater spotted woodpecker was not seen in that location again.

There were frequent sightings of bramblings, chaffinches, chiffchaffs, goldcrest, greenfinches and goldfinches. Thrushes, wrens, robins, treecreepers and tits of various types were commonly seen as well. Another bird of note is the kingfisher. Sightings, although it usually feels more like glimpses, have occurred in various locations on both the Lark and the Linnet. We hope that it is a number of kingfishers rather than a single one that “gets around a lot”!!

In April, we continued to see many of the birds mentioned above but we had to wait until May to see swifts and swallows. They add a whole new dimension to aerial acrobatics.

We saw our first blackcaps and whitethroats in June. By August our transients had moved on and our resident birds filled our observation lists. Before long we were seeing flocks of long tailed tits and goldfinches scavenging through the meadows in their search for food such as seeds from teasels, ivy and shrubs.

While we saw more birds this year than we did last year, we sense that there may be still more to see. Walking the Water Meadows in spring and early summer, the birdsong is extraordinary both in variety and volume. It is hard to believe that some of that noise comes from birds that weigh no more than a pound coin.

There was a poor breeding record of small birds this year. It is hard to say why but few nesting boxes were occupied and fewer fledglings were seen in the Water Meadows. It could be that weather conditions were unhelpful; it might also be that some predation occurred. The culprits could include squirrels, blackbirds, magpies and other corvids.

It has been a disappointing year for small mammals but we do have a very healthy population of squirrels and moles! Some water voles have been seen. Perhaps progress may be being made to help the rivers become cleaner.

Deer, especially muntjac but occasionally roe, are regularly seen and there has been a report of successful breeding on Ram Meadow. Hedgehogs have been seen but there does not seem to be a substantial population.

In our 2020 report, we listed more extensive reptile recording as one of our goals for 2021. To this end, additional roofing felt reptile sheets were laid on 23rd March 2021 adding Ram Meadow and the North Crankles to the existing survey areas of No Mans Meadows, South Crankles and the Butt’s (Sarah Gull’s land). Unfortunately, by the time of the first check the following week, one of the new mats in Ram Meadow had already disappeared from the location where it had been placed. This was eventually located and then relocated during a subsequent visit. Several other sheets were lost during the course of the year, either through interference or simply hidden beneath tall nettle growth. We have yet to find any evidence of reptiles using any of the study areas but we have encountered shrews under a couple of sheets in Ram Meadow and voles and a frog in the Butts, along with several ants nests.

We didn’t get out to check reptile mats much in the second half of the year. We need to see how many of them we can re-find this winter when the nettles have died back. We may need to rethink some of the locations as many of them get so swamped by nettles that they are hard (painful!) to reach and difficult to find, plus too shaded to warm up in a way that would make them attractive to reptiles. Thinking ahead it would probably be really worthwhile laying a few sheets in Ram Meadow East if we are likely to be allowed regular access next year. The south-facing slope beside the pond looks to be a promising reptile habitat.

While there have been sightings of butterflies, it is sightings of whites and red admirals that have been most frequent. However, in March we saw brimstones and peacocks as well as red admirals. In April we saw brimstone, commas and orange tips. In May we saw brimstone, commas, orange tips, cabbage whites and speckled woods. In June, we saw red admirals and an elephant hawk moth. We saw, as well, buff tailed bumblebees, red tailed bumblebees and carder bees. Hover flies and a blue darter made the list, too. In July we saw red admirals, meadow brown, gatekeeper, green-veined white, comma and peacock butterflies. A similar list was seen in August as well as buff tailed bumblebees and lots of ladybirds and wasps.

The BWMG has decided to make a determined effort to encourage the seeding of plants, such as yellow-rattle, which are known to be attractive hosts to a variety of caterpillars.

Last but by no means least, we have been recording the plants that are seen in the Water Meadows. There is an enormous diversity of plants ranging from tiny violets to architectural plants such as bullrushes, mulleins, indian balsam and hemlock. Needless to say, the latter two are invasive and unwelcome.

We have extended our wildflower recording this year. One of the most fruitful areas, so far, has been in and around the Charnel House in the Great Churchyard. Over 60 plant species have been seen growing in this small area. The majority seem to have been established following the laying of wildflower turf in 2014, but some interesting species, including Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera) and Changing-Forget- Me -Not (Myosotis discolor) have appeared in addition to the list of species knowingly introduced at that time.

While for many the pinnacle of flowering in the Great Churchyard is in April and May when the cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) blooms – and this year it was, as always, astoundingly beautiful – there was an earlier flowering which appears to be more widespread each year. This is the Few-flowered garlic (Allium paradoxum) which peaks in March.

Partway through the year, we were fortunate enough to be able to add Ram Meadow East to our survey area. It is situated at the northeast end of Ram Meadow. Until mid year it had been occupied by members of the travelling community and so no access was available. Once they moved on, we discovered that they had occupied only the northern end of the site; the majority of the area being relatively undisturbed. We found a variety of different habitats which are home to a very mixed array of plant species. Over 130 have been recorded so far and, no doubt, there are more to find. These range from the opportunistic ruderals( e.g.Henbit Deadnettle and Pale Persicaria) and eclectic garden survivors (e.g. Lungwort and Opium poppies) appearing in the disturbed soils at the northwest end of the site through to wetland species growing in (e.g. Reedmace) and along the margins of a silted up pond (e.g. Celery Leaved Buttercup). There is an interesting area of dry south-facing slope supporting species such as Wild Basil and Small Scabious. These are typical of unimproved species-rich grassland.

While not strictly within the Water Meadows catchment that we started with last year, it has been interesting to note an apparent spread of Small Teasel (Dipsacus pilosus) along the edge of the river Lark and Water Figwort (Scrophularia auriculata) cropping up in new places this year, including growing out of a wall alongside Harp Meadow.These are examples of two species that seem to have benefited from the very damp conditions we have had through the year.

Ivy is a wonderful source of nectar in the autumn as well as providing berries and nesting sites for birds through the winter and spring. In September one of the observers noted a variety of insects feeding on ivy growing on the Friars Lane footpath. As well as Red Admiral and Comma butterflies, there were lots of hoverflies and other dipterans. Some boldly striped Ivy Mining Bees were seen as well. These were only recorded for the first time in the UK in 2001.

A more detailed, month by month breakdown of the plants our observers have recorded can be found under the Biodiversity Surveying section on the website. Additionally, all have been uploaded to iRecord so that our records become part of a national register as well.

For all the observers there were special moments.

For Sue. After spotting the grey wagtails in the Lark for the first time, I always looked forward to seeing them again and the day there were four of them – two pairs – doing wagtaily things among the pebbles and rippling water was special. And another day a small tree (near the allotments in Ram Meadow ) was absolutely covered in goldfinches. Magical – or perhaps I should say charming.

For Stephen. One highlight of my observations was in June when the Linnet water level was (unusually) normal and clear. In brilliant sunlight, very small minnow-like creatures were observed swimming at the Linnet bridge location by the Premier Inn car park. Also seen was a blue dragonfly flitting between the banks. There is some life in the Linnet after all!

For Peter. There’s nothing like thinking to yourself “This is a great spot for a (insert species)”, and then it appears on cue! Truly magical when it’s a kingfisher.

For Iain. For me there was an extraordinary experience with a butterfly. Every evening, for a couple of weeks, at much the same time a red admiral butterfly came to my garden by the South Crankles and rested for several minutes on my shoulder. Entrancing!

For Iain a second special moment came right at the end of the year. On a morning walk, a pause on the Abbey Gardens bridge to watch a moorhen resulted in a sighting of a water vole. It swam across the Lark at a distance of five yards or so from the bridge and disappeared into a clump of undergrowth at the river’s edge.

Many thanks to the volunteers for helping to create the huge amount of data generated . They included Sue Russell, Stephen Brunner, Peter Armitage, Jaq Campbell and Vic Ward.
Iain Carruthers-Jones and Anna Saltmarsh

BWMG biodiversity survey 2020

This is a preliminary report of the 2020 biodiversity survey in the historic Bury St Edmunds Water Meadows. The survey took place in late summer 2020 in the 5 hectares of green space that comprise the Crankles, No Mans Meadow and Ram Meadow. Within this area are two chalk streams, the Lark and the Linnet.

The team of observers included Anna Saltmarsh (AS). Libby Ranzetta, Sue Russell, Jillian Macready and Iain Carruthers-Jones (ICJ).

37 types of birds were recorded. The largest bird sighted was a raptor. A Buteo buteo (buzzard) was seen several times and in different locations. It would seem likely that this is a single bird; we had no sighting of a pair of birds and no active nest was seen.
However, an old nest has been seen on adjacent land owned by the Gulls.

In July, there was a sighting on Ram Meadow of a hunting Kestrel. It was close to a strike on a pigeon when it pulled away. The pigeon survived to breathe another day. Clearly others had not been so fortunate because there was a large spread of feathers on the ground nearby.
A pair of egrets were sighted in Ram Meadow as well. While this was the only sighting of a pair there were several sightings in the Crankles and No Mans Meadow of solitary birds. A heron has been seen a number of times in various locations along the Lark and the Linnet.

A pair of swans fledged a single cygnet. Their range stretched from the Lark bridge that crosses the Crankles as far downstream as the Eastgate weir. They were last seen as a family in late September. One parent and the cygnet were seen for another week or two. Finally the cygnet was left alone. It has not been seen since mid-October.

There have been sightings of pheasants and partridges. One partridge mother raised a brood of five cheepers very conscientiously for several weeks and could be seen at different locations in the Crankles and No Mans Meadow.

There were many sightings of pigeons, crows and rooks. One morning in May ICJ witnessed an unusual sight. In No Mans Meadow a couple of sheep were surrounded by rooks. At first it looked like they might be attacking the lambs that were with the sheep. However, on closer inspection, it became obvious that this was not an attack but a collaboration. The rook on the sheep’s back was pulling out wool from the fleece and passing it to rooks on the ground. They promptly flew off with the wool, presumably to create a warm and comfortable nest for their fledglings. The host sheep stood still, and presumably acquiescent, for at least five minutes.

There were frequent sightings of some smaller birds. At least one kingfisher has been flying along the Lark from the Abbot’s Bridge to No Mans Meadow. Small flocks of blue tits and long tailed tits have been seen frequently as well. Chaffinch, greenfinch, brambling, goldfinch and linnet have been seen from time to time. There have probably been more than we recorded. Robins and blackbirds have been seen frequently. Other species also sighted include coal tits (frequent), great tits (frequent), wren (frequent but very localised), nuthatch, willow warbler, and swifts.

There have been sightings of magpies but it is difficult to gauge whether they are numerous.

Water based birds have been sighted frequently. Moorhens and, especially, mallards frequent the stretch of the Lark from the North Crankles to the Eastgate weir. It is intriguing that the male birds outnumber the females.

A single grey wagtail was spotted in late July.

Both green woodpeckers and greater spotted woodpeckers have been seen. Various types of gull have overflown but there has been no ground based activity.

The biggest and most numerous category was plants. We recorded 108 different plants. Excluded from this count were plants which were known to have been seeded or planted (e.g. snowdrops or wildflower seed mix) by volunteers in the last couple of years. However, it will be interesting to see which of these thrive.

Of the 108 types recorded there was a huge variety. Some had “old names” like lady’s bedstraw, fat hen, yorkshire fog, sneezewort, old man’s beard and some were old plants which featured in herbals, such as horseradish, marjoram, oregano, angelica, hemp agrimony and St. John’s Wort.

Three plants recorded were a cause for concern. Firstly, himalayan balsam has been seen growing along the river margins. There has been an active programme to remove this vigorously invasive plant.

The second plant is hemlock which has been a prolific grower this year. It is poisonous. It has grown along the river margins at the south end of the Lark in No Mans Meadow and beyond as far as the Lark Path junction with the main road. It has grown to a height of more than eight feet in places; when in full leaf it overshadowed all the other plants along the path.

Hemlock is not a new arrival since it was first recorded in 1548 ( according to the NNSS). It does appear to be spreading possibly due to pollution and eutrophication (high nutrient levels) as well as climate change. While it is not a controlled species in the UK it will be monitored carefully in coming years.

A third plant, giant hogweed, has been seen in the area. While it is not present in our survey area it has been seen on the banks of a ditch leading into the Linnet in Holywater Meadows. This can be described as a problematic, non-native invasive species. Its sap can cause severe photosensitive blistering.

Probably the easiest survey to do involved the trees of the Water Meadows. When you want to count them, like plants, they remain still.! We counted 27 different types. Most numerous were willow (white, black, weeping, grey and crack ) and poplar ( white and black), maple, sycamore, ash and aspen. There were a few horse chestnuts, maple, alder and hawthorn as well as walnut (black and english), elder, scots pine and guelder rose.

Our surveying of butterflies and moths was insufficiently comprehensive and systematic. The coronavirus restrictions blocked our efforts in the first quarter but in the second quarter we saw 14 different types of butterfly. These included large whites, small whites, green veined whites, small blues, peacocks, brimstone, commas, brown argus and gatekeepers. Less common, an eyed hawk moth was seen. It might have been injured because only one “eye” was visible but it must have recovered enough to fly away after a couple of hours. Also observed was an Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar. What a triumph of camouflage.

Mammals seen have included voles, rats, rabbits, grey squirrels, muntjac deer, roe deer and hedgehogs.
Reptile mats were put out at six sites in the Crankles and No Mans Meadow. They were checked periodically. One was destroyed by grass and nettle cutting. The other five yielded little except for a number of invertebrates.

No reptiles have been seen this year.

Ground nesting bees were seen at several locations in the Crankles and the northern end of No Mans Meadow. It was not possible to be more specific about the types of bee seen because they were extremely irritable and the observers did not have “bee suits”.

It had been intended to survey other species as well. However, it wasn’t possible to do a survey of bats, bees and other insects and fish. It is hoped that they will be included in next year’s survey.

Fungi were not recorded methodically. In recent weeks one giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea) has been spotted. Although not a fungus, a striking slime mould (Tubifera ferruginosa?) was spotted in the North Crankle.

In conclusion, our intention to do an intensive and detailed biodiversity survey was hampered by COVID. Nonetheless we recorded an impressive number of observations, with the most numerous being plants. This year’s survey will serve as a benchmark for next year. If circumstances allow next year we should record more in every category (with the possible exception of trees) since we will have a longer observation and recording window.

A list of records is being stored. All records will be submitted to SBIS (Suffolk Biodiversity Information Service) and will subsequently be available on the National Biodiversity Network (NBN Atlas). Further, we are exploring the use of iRecord as a means of uploading and collating these and future records.

Iain Carruthers-Jones and Anna Saltmarsh