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.