This lovely film from Hertfordshire explains the difference between chalk streams like the Lark and Linnet, and clay rivers, and gives an insight into why they are so special.
Working in co-ordination with our sister organisation the River Lark Catchment Partnership, BWMG volunteers are making a major contribution to controlling Himalayan Balsam. Building on its previous years efforts BWMG has this year surveyed 7km of the Lark & Linnet rivers in Bury St Edmunds and has so far clocked up some 75 volunteer hours in surveying and pulling this invasive species. Scything or pulling up by the roots effectively kills Himalayan Balsam but the scale of the task and nature of the habitat with steep riverbanks and nettles, makes this very labour intensive work. See photo (left) of cut HB decomposing.
But don’t be fooled by its pretty flowers. This waterside-loving plant is aggressively competitive and very fast growing, invading riverbanks and wetlands so rapidly that scientists are concerned by its negative impact on the riverbank and biodiversity. It quickly shades out native plants, resulting in the loss of biodiversity and even riverbank erosion and flooding. . It does, however, produce nectar which is very attractive to pollinating insects. Bumblebees can be seen nectaring on the flowers, but this is thought to distract insects from visiting native wildflowers which may, in turn, go un-pollinated. Himalayan balsam in an annual, which means it grows, flowers, and sets seed all in one season.
The first shoots can be seen in mid-May and it grows rapidly, often well over head height with a succulent hollow stem – green in spring and turning red as summer progresses. Seed pods are ripe from the beginning of July and these explode when touched or are knocked by the wind, shooting up to 800 seeds, five metres or more, sometimes into a water course. This will carry the seeds downstream to germinate in the spring some distance from the mother plants. The first frosts of autumn cause the plant to die back but the seed is viable to start the life cycle again the following spring.
Sometimes there is an explosion of plants one year where there were none the previous year. Himalayan balsam is so invasive that, in UK law, it is illegal to plant or encourage it to grow in the wild. Being listed in the Countryside and Wildlife Act 1981, is not enough to stop the balsam advance. Prevention is better than cure, so plants need to be cut or pulled before seed sets. The good news is that our survey has shown that where we pulled the plants last year they have not returned and so this year’s efforts upstream should restrict further spread downstream to Fornham, Hengrave and beyond.
Notice of Bury Water Meadows Group AGM
Thursday 7th November 2019
Quaker Meeting House at 7pm
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
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:
7pm, Thursday 18th July
St John’s Centre, St Johns St, Bury St Edmunds (almost immediately opposite our usual venue)
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.
The working party on 30th March enjoyed early Spring sunshine; perfect for messing about on the river bank in the Abbey Gardens. A lot of fine volunteer effort helped to clear up leaves and tidy the wildflower turf we planted last year.
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.
Jillian Macready writes: Our February work parties got off to a flying start on a cold but bright and blowy morning. Bury Water Meadows Group volunteers have been doing conservation work for a couple of years now, but this stretch of the Lark path on the way to the Abbey Gardens between the old St James’ school and the Crankles (i.e. the ancient fishponds area which had been planted with cricket bat willows until they were felled to be used for, well you guessed it, English cricket bats – best in the world I am told!) I have been itching to get at for a number of years now.
It had been overgrown with brambles and rambling hops, both of which are very important larval food plants for a number of invertebrates, but not when there is so much of it and when it starts to pull the trees there into the river. The trees, mostly elder and field maple with a couple of hawthorns had become leggy and it was time to put a bit of vigour into them. By cutting the trees down to the ground, a practice called coppicing, they will grow back sturdier and with extra life in them. Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland or scrub management which makes use of the fact that new shoots will grow from cut off stumps (also called stools) when cut to the ground. The word copse comes from a coppiced wood, which is a little-known fact I have just picked up!
We started at 10am and a record number of volunteers turned up which goes to show people like to get out into the sunshine and do some practical work, it has been proven that gentle physical exercise is good for mental and physical heath and apparently the Government is thinking of measuring wellbeing as a criteria for grant funding. BWMG can produce bucket loads of wellbeing now that conservation projects exceed the number of volunteer days available!
We were lucky to have John Smithson (pictured) who knows the water meadows well since he’s newly retired from a long carrier with the Borough Council as Park’s Manager. He gave us a quick pep talk about the correct use of hand saws and watching out for people when trees came down. Working in teams, some volunteers took up rakes to rake off last year’s vegetation, others picked up bow saws and loppers and work commenced. All the material was collected in large barrows by a third group, wheeled over to the other side of the river and dumped in what became an enormous pile. This will be a habitat pile, left to rot over the years and useful for wild creatures to shelter in. All too often, you see scrub clearance but there is a huge big bonfire getting rid of all this valuable material especially rotting wood. Decaying wood either standing or in log piles and old spent plant material is of great value to insets, fungi mosses and lichens which in turn feed animals higher up the food chain.
We picked a black sack’s worth of litter; there were plenty of the usual offending items such as black dog poo bags and plastic bottles.
We even unearthed a section of the old Abbey wall, which had been hidden in the undergrowth for many years. This must have been attached to a bridge over the Lark in ancient times and marked the boundary of what was thought to be a vineyard belonging to the Abbey of St Edmund.
By the time we had finished, the section we had tackled looked completely different – no scrub, no rubbish, plenty of light getting onto the river. Just another two such sections to go!
In this video, Jillian, John Smithson and Glenn Smithson explain what we were doing and why it is important.
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.
We had a very good summer, a little hot for the sort of work we did but we achieved a lot (I do apologise for all the raking, but it is essential work!), we are inching towards reducing the stinging nettle dominance and restoring plant diversity to the water meadows. Bury Water Meadows Group is hugely grateful to our volunteers and we are always keen to have more – hopefully you will find one of the scheduled dates suitable to come and join us.
There is still much to do, for instance we haven’t finished the turf laying that was scheduled in the spring and halted due to the Beast from the East! This is now planned for early November. This involves removal of the vegetation on the river bank, so the turf can go down and keeping up with the leaves which will fall, so much of the work being undertaken will take place in the Abbey Gardens this month and next. We will then move onto tree maintenance, stinging nettle removal and plug plant weeding or planting later on and early next year.
Email us if you are interested in joining in.
Liz Cutting, A look at Suffolk Wildlife through the lens of a camera
7pm Thursday 29th November 2018 (preceded by AGM)
Friends Meeting House, St John’s Street, IP33 1SJ
Liz Cutting has been a dedicated photographer for many years and her images have been used by many conservation organisations. This will be a glorious photographic feast of our local wildlife. (Photo: Liz Cutting)