A project which Bury Water Meadows Group (BWMG) has been working on for the past five years has at last become reality; the first new public green space and a new Rights of Way along further sections of the River Lark path in Bury St Edmunds. This has been achieved through a long-lease donation of land by British Sugar along the back of Fornham Road between Tesco (just after the A14 underpass) and the Tollgate.
We are very thankful to Jo Churchill MP (pictured here walking a section of the new stretch with our Chairman Andrew Hinchley) who very capably managed to push the project over the finishing line in December when, having been stalled for many months, it was clear it was close to crashing out.
Bury is set to increase in size by 20% by 2031 and while new estates are being built to include some green space, the opening of this wood and river path will constitute the single largest new green space accessible in the town for generations. With St Edmundsbury Borough Council the recipients of the land, there is no possibility of further development on it.
The wood has received limited management in recent years. Alongside creating pedestrian access for the public, pro-active woodland management can now start, to ensure the health of all remaining trees. The management of the wood will effectively provide double the path length available to the public at present, it is about the same length as the Leg of Mutton path. As well as providing a pleasant amenity, almost unique in the centre of a town the size of Bury, access to the river increases public appreciation of this rare chalk stream and of Bury’s green spaces but also helps recruit volunteers to swell the BWMG volunteer team.
In 2017, as the video shows, Bell Meadow residents worked with volunteers from BWMG, and River Lark Catchment Partnership (RLCP) and won a national award from the Wild Trout Trust, the acknowledged national experts on river restoration, for their work on this special stretch of the Lark. Now the residents there have the assurance that for their lifetimes and future generations, their enhanced outlook will be maintained.
Some of our most beautiful rivers are chalk streams. Their pure, clear, constant water from underground chalk aquifers and springs, flowing across gravel beds, make them perfect sources of clean water, rich in invertebrate life which support a range of special wildlife such as the wild trout, kingfishers and otters. Surveys carried out by the Wild Trout Trust, showing just how degraded and neglected our chalk streams have become, encouraged the Environment Agency to make further funding available to do work on this stretch to halt this neglect. This is also in line with the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) call to halt this collapse of a unique ecosystem.
This part of the Lark enjoys an absence of enduring man-made structures such as locks from the past 150 years of the river operating as a canal. This so-called Lark Navigation will be the subject of our first speaker meeting in March. A faster flow also allows for a cleaning of the gravelly river bed, so important for the spawning of wild trout.
In the coming weeks, and before the bird-nesting season, the council will fell a small number of trees, many of which are overdue for removal (pro-active maintenance of the wood can now go ahead) and open a rights of way dedication process. The path is expected to open next spring and the wood will not be publicly accessible before then.
BWMG has however committed that volunteers will assist in riverbank planting which will help maintain privacy for as many as possible of the few houses with shorter gardens.
Thanks are first due to British Sugar for this generous donation, championed for all five years by Chris Johnson, British Sugar’s senior environmental engineer.
Thanks are due to Cllrs Jo Rayner (on the right of the photo) and Julia Wakelam (on the left of the photo) who have been long-term supporters of this initiative, with implementation from Council Officer, Damien Parker (in the photo, pointing).
Thanks are also due to SCC Public Rights-of-Way Officer Claire Dickson who has fiercely supported this project over the five years, supported by her boss Andrew Woodin.
Thanks also to Mark Ereira-Guyer who, as a County Councillor, made a special locality grant allowing BWMG to purchase a tiny strip of land which unlocked the whole project.
Finally, thanks to the Church Walks charities which also financially supported the project.