Bury Water Meadows Group has received a significant boost with the Town Council approving funding of £9277 at its November meeting. The funding application was proposed by Cllr Tony Whittingham and councillors were unanimous in supporting the group’s efforts to raise the status of the rivers Lark and Linnet and their adjacent areas in the town.
There are only around 200 chalk streams in the world, mostly in England, and 2 of them are here in Bury St Edmunds. These rare rivers are one of England’s most important natural habitats and are ecosystems of global significance. Sadly, our town’s rivers are suffering from lack of water and pollution and we have become used to seeing either stagnant water with bright green duck weed or little or no water each summer. The water that is in the river does not derive from the aquifer as before but is often run-off and polluted. Whilst we are working at policy level to tackle the root causes of these problems – essentially over-abstraction for the public water supply and pollution from agriculture and water treatment works – we cannot succeed without the support of the town’s public.
We are committed to raising more awareness and love for our rivers and the adjacent water meadows by people in the town by:
• managing and enhancing the beauty and biodiversity of the water meadows so that the town’s residents can enjoy and appreciate the town’s green spaces
• public information and education through online webinars
• opening up new riverside paths such as extending the Lark Valley path into the town
• managing habitat along the riverside route of a proposed new 1 mile long circular walk (the Abbots Walk).
BWMG has been active throughout the coronavirus pandemic and since March we have grown our membership by 10% to over 230 members. We’ve run some 35 volunteer work parties so far this year undertaking habitat conservation, maintenance & invasive species clearance with over 60 different people putting in over 650 hours. We’ve also run over 30 online talks since April covering both a range of topics both specific to the town (eg water meadows history, bats, birds, trees) and also more generally on chalk rivers and the threats they face. A small team has also surveyed the riparian flora and fauna under the auspices of the Suffolk Biodiversity Information Service, recording the species which are present as a benchmark.
For many people, accessible outdoor spaces may be their only link to nature. As well as benefits to physical health, greenspace helps to bind communities and reduce loneliness. We know first-hand that volunteering with BWMG has both helped people stay physically healthy and has provided a sense of purpose. Social contact has also been promoted through our on-line talks, keeping people in regular contact. Councillors noted the physical and mental health benefits of people being able to get outside, particularly during the COVID restrictions and the efforts that BWMG was doing to contribute to this.
This new funding is important because BWMG is at the point in its evolution where we want to move up another gear. As always, we need to fund the trees, turf and plants that people will see as they walk along the pathways as well as some more tools to do this. But we also need to fund a habitat management plan to cover the Crankles & No Mans Meadows so that we have a practical formal guide for the next few years’ activities (we already have one for Ram Meadow which is invaluable). We also need to solve a problem of where we store our equipment so it doesn’t have to be transported from different places every time we run an event. And there are training requirements for volunteers for National Water Safety Management and for trustee responsibilities.
We can look forward to 2021 with renewed confidence that we can continue to make a positive difference to conserve, preserve and improve the rivers Lark & Linnet and adjacent areas for the benefit of the public.