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The Water Meadows Chronicles, part 15

When walking Luna the other morning I bumped into Libby who is a fellow dog walker and, more importantly, a fellow trustee of the BWMG. She told me she had been walking around No Mans Meadow the previous day and seen several egrets and two herons. So far in our biodiversity surveying in the Water Meadows we have seen at most two egrets and one heron so I went to look for myself later in the afternoon. Well when I went I saw two herons and six egrets!!! Are they two parents and four maturing fledglings or are they transients? Perhaps time will tell. Whatever the answer, I was thrilled. For me, it felt like the sighting of the season. And yet I was frustrated. The birds were equidistant between the two paths that travel north-south around the Meadow and one can’t walk across the Meadow at that point. In any case the ground was far too wet and the birds would have been frightened off should I have tried to get any closer. I had to be satisfied with a long look and a self reminder to have my binoculars and a long lense camera with me next time.

December has been a month of surprises. There was snow at the beginning and it was lovely to see the Water Meadows covered with a dusting of snow. The Water Meadows are always beautiful but when it snows it takes on another level; it becomes entrancing.

However, no sooner did the snow begin to melt when we had an awful lot of rain.
The river water levels were far higher than average and much of the Crankles and No Mans Meadow were under water for a couple of days. There was some question of how this might be – perhaps the Ickworth estate had released a lot of water from their lake similar to an incident that happened a few years ago. Eventually, it was considered unlikely since such an event would have affected only the Linnet. The Lark, which originates from Bradfield Combust, was similarly affected. Indeed flood warnings went out for almost every river in East Anglia and were only lifted 24 or so hours later. The most likely explanation is that snow melt and the lengthy downpour led to a huge amount of runoff.

Days later the Lark and the Linnet were still carrying a lot of runoff sediment but they were nowhere near  the level reached a week earlier. On the lighter side it has been comical to watch our multitude of mallards trying to paddle upstream. I’ve seen some get smart and take to the wing. My main concern, however, was for the mammals that burrow because it could be that many were trapped and drowned by the rising floodwaters. 


And then the rain came again. I woke to take the dog for a walk and did a treble take when I looked out of the window. The whole of the Crankles was under water. It looked like a lake and I would not have been surprised to see canoes! The water reached a level much higher than the previous week. In fact, it came within a foot of my back fence; I understand that some people upstream on the Lark even had water in their gardens and garages.

In Sicklesmere the water level on 24th December was reported to be the highest for many years. The path between the bridges over the Lark and the Linnet was covered by more than a foot of water and the paths around No Mans Meadow were impassable as they, too, were under water. What a sight. But as one sage I encountered said, “it’s only the Water Meadows doing their job.” Another, with a more pronounced Suffolk burr and a less charitable view said that he hoped “all them houses get flooded. They should never have built there in the first place”. Hardly the spirit of Christmas even in this extraordinary year.

The drying out process continues and probably will for a while to come. The beekeeper has been to rebuild the bee hives. I hope that the damage was not too great but I fear that the bee population was decimated. The few sunny days we’ve had have been appreciated but the sunny/ non-sunny ratio could do with some adjustment in many people’s opinion.

And then….I was walking along Vinefields and deciding whether to walk on to Eastgate or turn left past the new tennis courts when I saw two large patches of yellow flowers. The winter aconites were in flower. It brought a smile. It feels a little premature to suggest that it signalled the beginning of spring but I have seen, as well, a variety of tits showing interest in our bird boxes and again it gives a little lift and brings a smile.

Taking the path between the Linnet and the Lark bridges yesterday morning I saw a goldfinch working its way among the teasels in the South Crankles. They have a stark skeletal beauty but the goldfinch was there for the seeds. I watched it from a distance of a couple of metres; it took one look at me, probably assessed me as non threatening, and went on feeding. A lovely sight and a vindication of the decision to leave the teasels when some of the other grasses are mown in the autumn.

As this old year comes to an end, it is easy to simply say “good riddance” but there have been good things. Some of them will be personal events. I think that there may have been an increasing appreciation of each other and our local community. I think, too, that many have come to appreciate even more our outdoors and the treasure that is Bury Water Meadows. How else can one explain that the volunteer working party that gathered a couple of days ago in the North Crankles was a great mix of long term and new volunteers. On a lovely morning they set to with a will and enthusiasm. And a welcome tea break gave them the chance to have a natter and a catch up, too.

I wish you all A Happy New Year.

Iain Carruthers-Jones

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