BWMG begins multi-year habitat management in Ram Meadow, 2020
Most people in Bury St Edmunds know the Ram Meadow carpark and football ground but many have never ventured beyond into the wildlife site area behind that we hope will be soon designated as a Local Nature Reserve. The site used to be the main holding meadows for livestock going to market but after the Tesco development it was passed onto the local council in 1996. Starting in 2020 West Suffolk Council has agreed a multi-year site management plan with BWMG taking on conservation activities with the aim of creating and maintaining more favourable habitats for flora and fauna over all of Ram Meadow.
The site is part of the river Lark floodplain consisting of low-lying meadow with a network of drainage ditches and an open water scrape. The encroachment of woodland and coarse nettle scrub on to the meadows, along with the silting up of the ditches (see picture, right) and the drying out of the scrape through willow and bur-reed have combined to threaten the site’s habitats.
BWMG volunteers started in June 2020 by clearing Hemlock from the meadow area around the wetland habitat area known as “the scrape”. This took 4 work parties 42 hours over a very hot weekend. In September we continued by clearing some of the 1668m of overgrown ditches that drain the site. Three work parties involving some 50 volunteer hours have transformed parts of the West ditch visible from the Barwell Road entrance bridge and ditch F3 which runs parallel to the allotments.
Next we tackled “the scrape” which had been largely hidden from the public’s view through willow, nettles and hemlock around the edges and bur-reed in the water. Upon starting there was only 15% open water and the habitat was less attractive for reed and sedge warblers, water vole and dragonfly & damselfly species, all of which have all be recorded there in the past.
In conservation, you never do all the work at once. Firstly, non-native white poplars blocking light to the scrape were felled by the Council. Then BWMG ran three more work parties with some 78 volunteer hours during October/November beginning a programme of coppicing willow and reed-pulling which will last through 5 to 7 years. Volunteers with in-water training went into the scrape and pulled the bur-reed by hand which was then transferred on a raft to be pulled out and left in habitat piles on the side for grass snakes and other reptiles to shelter over the winter. Many other volunteers were busy managing the willow coppicing, creating wood piles and brash habitat and laying out wood-chipped poplar onto the public footpath.
This effort has already had the effect of opening up part of the water habitat to light and air and reducing the impact of trees and scrub drying-out the water. The other impact of removing these trees, nettles, hemlock and reeds is that they support fewer of our native insects, birds and bats, in turn making room for increasing those plants which are of more use to our wildlife.
We think we’ve been able to make a big difference already after only our first season of work !