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.”

Restoration on the Lark at Bell Meadow

Our in-river trained team of volunteers and Bell Meadows residents went to work on their stretch of the river in December (pictured) and residents in Fornham worked on the river opposite the golf club in February. Rob Mungoven from the Wild Trout Trust, Rob Clapham of the Environment Agency and RLCP’s volunteer restoration co-ordinator Glenn Smithson led work in the river to restore the flow and gravel beds to allow the trout and other fish to live there. The work will also help to move silt downstream as the woody material strategically placed, narrows the channel and helps the water run faster.

Planting wildflowers

Research has found that the number of insects in the UK has decreased by 70% over the last 20 years and indeed another more recent report has found that this is also a trend in some other Western European countries.

The causes are complex, but one thing that is clear is that the diversity of wildflower species has reduced significantly in the same period because traditional meadows have been enriched for grassland, ploughed over or been poorly managed.

We are starting to address this in our meadows and recently planted 56 different species of wildflower in parts of No Man’s Meadow as well as in turf we laid in the Abbey Gardens on the river bank.

Volunteers met at the Crankles armed with trowels and turfing tools. We took out small areas of turf to reveal bare earth and then planted mostly one species of wildflower per station. These stations will be looked after over the winter and into the spring paying attention to watering, as our autumn has been very dry so far.

We are hoping to help address the issues that arose after the cricket bat willows were taken out in the Crankles. When the ground was disturbed by taking out the trees, naturally the nettles took off, being exposed to the light after years in the shade. There are a number ways of reducing nettle dominance, but they do take patience and persistence over a number of years and we are planning to work with the Council who manage the land, to work out a solution.

One of our members, Anne Gould, has kindly produced this video of the wildflower planting project.

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.

CamEO Invasive Non-Native Species Workshop, August 22nd

The Cam and Ely Ouse (CamEO) Catchment Partnership is hosting a non-native invasive species workshop on August 22nd that will bring partners together to discuss the primary species of concern and take a look at recent actions that are already underway to control their spread.

The workshop will cover the legacy of the RINSE project as well as the latest research coming from Cambridge University and the Non-Native Species Secretariat; however, the majority of the time will be set aside for partners to discuss their ongoing efforts and ambitions in an attempt to align our activities effectively to tackle invasive species at the catchment scale.

You can book a ticket for free here.

Little egret

Most walks along the Lark valley in Bury are now rewarded with a sighting of a little egret in, or close to, the water, brilliant white.  The RSPB says the little egret is a small white heron with attractive white plumes on crest, back and chest, black legs and bill and yellow feet. It first appeared in the UK in significant numbers in 1989 and first bred in Dorset in 1996. Its colonization followed naturally from a range expansion into western and northern France in previous decades. It is now at home on numerous south coast sites, both as a breeding species and as a winter visitor.

Little egret is not to be mistaken with the much rarer great white heron, although they look similar from a distance. This BTO video explains the differences, but look out for the yellow feet and black bill of little egret.

This video was taken from the Lark bridge at the Crankles (facing the Abbey gardens) in February 2017.

Reptile survey

This Sunday 7th May from 1.00pm for an hour or so, The Bury Water Meadows Group is carrying out a reptile survey with the help of a local ecologist, Nick Sibbett. We will learn how to set up the survey, how to record the wildlife we find and what to do with the data. The survey needs to last about 7 weeks so that creatures get used to finding the mats to hide under. We will need to come back to the mats during the summer but I will set up a rota so that no more than one return per person will be expected and it will be at your convenience!

If you want to take part please let me know in the first instance that you want to come. All you have to do is bring gardening gloves and suitable clothing as I think it will still take place if it rains. Amphibians and reptiles like the rain!

Jillian Macready