Feb 2019 work party report – clearing the Lark path by the Crankles

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.

Bury gets a new green space and river path

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!!

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.

 

Work parties up to Christmas

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.

Jillian Macready

 

AGM and talk by Liz Cutting, wildlife photographer, 29.11.18

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)

Jonny Rankin’s Dove Step

Jonny Rankin, a fellow Bury resident, has swapped an enthusiasm for heavy metal with inspirational endurance events spurred on by his love of birdwatching and a particular interest in the turtle dove, which has seen dramatic declines in recent years. With help and encouragement from friends and the RSPB he has completed three ‘Dove Step’ journeys – each more strenuous than the last, to raise money for turtle dove research.

To date, Dove Step has raised over £15,000 in support of Operation Turtle Dove. Another Dove Step challenge is in the practice phase. Jonny explained during his talk to the group on 21st June, the declines seen in recent years and the possible causes of this decline in a bird we can’t really call our own; there is an international element to its lifestyle since it migrates over sometimes hostile territory every year. He described in graphic detail his adventures along the way including the sight of the damage to his feet by ill preparation for one of the trips; though that image was not as distressing as seeing a pile of dead turtle doves – this bird is on the brink of extinction remember – next to a gleefully smiling man in dark sunglasses, and a rifle.

Sam Lee of the RSPB’s Operation Turtle Dove came along to the talk, and she explained what some of the research the money Jonny is raising, has achieved. If you are interested in learning more or donating to the fund, see here.

Glenn Smithson crowned River Champion

Congratulations to Glenn Smithson for winning recognition as a River Restoration Centre (RRC) Champion for 2018. Glenn has led all our in-channel work over the last year in Abbey Gardens (pictured here in action, orange jacket) and co-led the work at Bell meadow. Glenn also led the recent major clearing exercise in the Linnet and our Himalayan Balsam outings!

The RRC said: “Glenn is an advocate, and knowledgeable practitioner of river restoration in his spare time. He is a member of the historical Lark Angling Preservation Society and has carried out restoration on the Lark. He also works with the Wild Trout Trust nationwide. Glenn is a key partner in the River Lark Catchment Partnership where he works with multiple organisations to deliver restoration, including the Dig&Dump project, and enhancing chalk streams using a range of techniques. As well as this, he has attended lots of events to engage with the public to teach, influence and engage people in river restoration. Glenn helps out with organising people, materials and evidence in order to deliver projects, and helps with applications for Flood Risk Activity Permits.”

Invasive non-native plants could be damaging our wildlife and river banks

A wonderful plant to get children interested in nature, writes Jillian Macready, is Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) as the seed heads explode on touch when they are ready to disperse. However, this makes it a major weed problem, invading gardens and allotments but especially riverbanks and waste ground which don’t attract gardeners dedicated to spotting it before it gets out of hand. Some river catchments have acres and acres of nothing but HB and it is a serious problem for councils, water companies and the Environment Agency.

The plant is pretty and its helmet-shaped pink flowers are much loved by bees but each plant has the ability to produce 800 seeds and when the seed head explodes, its load is carried downstream in the water to infect other parts of the river.

It is also a fast growing annual, quickly getting to 10 ft in the right conditions and tolerant of shade and difficult areas so it can grow anywhere, shading out the natural vegetation. They and other non-native invasive plants displace native species and detrimentally affect the ecology of many vulnerable habitats. Its huge hollow stems and fleshy leaves are mostly water, so in the winter it dies down to nothing, leaving bare river banks which are then able to wash into the river with the first heavy rain.

This isn’t the only plant the Victorians brought to Britain as they were avid plant collectors from all round the world, but they had no idea of the damage some of these plant would wreak. Some £2bn of tax payers’ money is spent each year reducing some of the non-native invasive species which have naturalised here. HB is relatively easy to remove as it can be pulled easily with bare hands but others such as Giant Hogweed (pictured) can cause serious skin irritations, rash and sensitivity to sunlight if touched and Japanese knotweed is virtually impossible to irradiate with weed killer. Luckily Japanese Knotweed has not been reported in Bury St Edmunds but it is in parts of East Anglia.

We do have some Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) in the River Linnet in Bury St Edmunds but the council is aware of it and has a programme of irradiation. It’s worth familiarising yourself with it so that you don’t touch it by mistake as it can be mistaken for the harmless and very beneficial native Hogweed or cow parsley to which it is related and which must not be removed. It has thick bristly stems that are often blotched purple unlike hogweed or cow parsley and is twice the size once it flowers. It’s biennial so has a rosette of jagged lobed leaves in the first year and then sends up an enormous hogweed-like flower spike of white flowers the following year.

The EA and other bodies have joined forces to help combat the spread of the UK’s most problematic invasive non-native plant species by coming up with Plant tracker. The first step in tackling this problem is accurately determining where the plants might be and they need our help with this. Plant tracker is also an App for Iphones and Androids so you can notify the Agency while you are out walking.

Speak to us if you don’t know how to use the website or App or report it to us if you see Giant Hogweed or Japanese Knotweed. A successful “Balsam bashing” work party was carried out recently, with another on Sunday 23rd July in the areas of the Linnet which we didn’t manage to check. If you want to join us next time, please get in contact here. Also, don’t forget the workshop coming up later in August.

River restoration

We are now working with The River Lark Catchment Partnership, the group for the whole of the Lark River as this provides direct access to Environment Agency (EA) technical advice, funding and facilitation of formal permits needed to get the work done.

The good news is that the EA has received funding for work on the Lark for 2017-18 and probably the two following years. This can be distributed to partner groups such as BWMG and the angling clubs who have done so much over the years on river restoration work, for projects such as the one we got involved in in March this year to lay wildflower turf and put coir matting in the river for marginal habitat. For this work, we were able to use both our trained in-channel volunteers and planting volunteers. If you want to get involved in volunteering please contact us.

The next Bury site is likely to be where the Lark runs between Bell Meadow and the British Sugar woodlands.​​​​​​​

lennylarkHere’s an old map from 1823 showing the River Lark from Bury St Edmunds to Mildenhall (from St Edmundsbury Chronicle)

 

Update on wildflowers, wildflower turf and Elm tree planting

tree plantingLast October we planted wildflower plugs in No Mans Meadow. In February this year we planted European White Elms which had been supplied by Butterfly Conservation and in March, at the same time as litter picking and the river restoration project mentioned above, we laid turf seeded with wildflowers on the banks of the Lark by the Abbots Bridge in the Abbey gardens. So we have come a long way in a short time! There is a lot more to do and we hope with the support of the EA, through funding and the support of the Borough, we will be able to do more in due course.

Of the 50 Elms planted in the Crankles and No Mans Meadow, not one has failed, despite great competition from stinging nettles. We will be able to do some weeding round the plants in due course. The turf is still looking good despite the driest spring for 20 years in East Anglia – all thanks to the Borough staff who provided the standpipe and hose and some of our own members who have given up time to do watering.