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The Water Meadow Chronicles, part 19

Strange days. We have had a mixed bag of weather these last few weeks. We’ve had cold, wet and windy weather like winter and we’ve had really hot and sunny days. Some have put their central heating on and many have put extra layers on. Many men, including myself, have been torn between which trousers – shorts or longs? As I write, my decision to wear shorts today is typical. It was lovely when I was out walking at 08.30 and yet now in the early afternoon, my knees are distractingly cold. A change of clothes is imminent!

I am sure that plants, birds and mammals are confused as well. The received wisdom is that many plants are a few weeks later than usual. Birds mating behaviour seemed to be “on track” but few seem to have successfully raised broods. Damaged eggs have been seen in various parts of the water meadows. There’s a thought in some minds that this could all be because of climate change while others think it could be big birds predating, especially magpies and corvids.

Surprisingly, our observers have seen a lot of mating behaviour in the last couple of weeks. Dunnocks up to pigeons have been seen to be active in the process of second brood creation. Let’s hope that they will be successful.

There was the first recording of a hoverfly vollucella pellucens in Ram Meadow on 19th June, 2021. At first we thought it was leucozona lucorum since both types have a white band on the abdomen and black spots on the mid wing. The differentiator between the two was simply in the scutellum which is yellow/orange in the leucozona lucorum and black in the volucella pellucens.

The second exciting report was of an Elephant Hawk Moth (Deilephila elpenor, below) seen resting on nicotiana in a garden which backs on to the South Crankles. It was there long enough for a photograph to be taken. This exotic and unusual moth was resting, seemingly, and it flew away an hour or so later.

Bats are flying in the Great Churchyard at dusk. It is a great example of how frustrating spotting wildlife can be. It is light enough to see their silhouette but they are too swift for the untutored eye to identify which type of bat. It’s time to get my bat book out !!

One of our biodiversity survey volunteers has reported, with great glee, that he has seen fish in the Linnet. This was the first sighting this year and we had no sightings last year. It had been feared that pollution had wiped out the fish. But now the question is what type of fish are there – stickleback or minnow? While minnows lack the dorsal spines of sticklebacks, the difficulty is that one is looking from a distance of more than 2 metres from the Linnet bridge into shaded water full of water lettuce. Nonetheless, we must be hopeful that more will be sighted during the summer.

Last year many of us had the pleasure of following the swans progress. They nested in the South Crankles ditch just above the Lark bridge at the foot of Kaeveler way. Such large, graceful birds, they were very protective of their single cygnet. In the autumn they seemed to spend more time around the Eastgate Weir until first one of the adults and then the second flew off leaving the cygnet to fend for itself. I don’t know what happened but a few days later that too was gone. It didn’t look as if it was mature enough to fly any distance and I heard that it had been injured. Perhaps someone has more information, I would be glad to hear.

This year there was no sign of the swans until on Friday, 9th July, I saw a pair insouciantly swimming near the Abbey Gardens Lark bridge. Are they the same ones as last year? I do not know but it was good to see them. Let us hope that they intend to rear a brood.

Several walkers have mentioned to me that there is “activity” at the Eastgate Weir. There have been two flat bottomed boats and some large pumps. There have been a lovely selection of shopping trolleys and other oddities as well. Apparently, the company doing this work, in association with the Environment Agency, are engaged in “desilting” – a process undertaken every ten years. At the last account, they had removed over two hundred tons of “slushy silt”. Their key challenge now is to find somewhere to dispose of it !

As the reader knows, the volunteers do all sorts of tasks. The variety is part of the interest and pleasure. Around the turn of 2019/2020 there was a working party that planted hundreds of snowdrop bulbs by the path leading from the Eastgate weir car park to Ram Meadow. Very soon they were a sea of white flowers and there was an excellent show again this year. I know it’s a cliche but being among the first flowers into bloom they always bring a smile to those walking that way. Hopefully they will go from strength to strength each year. In contrast, another working party spent a session in No Mans Meadow at about the same time of year. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of wild flower mix seeds were sown in well prepared ground. Eighteen months on, there is a wonderful display of oxeye daisies but not much else. Perhaps next season will bring a more varied crop.

On Sunday, 4th July the Bury St Edmunds Green Fair took place in the Apex centre in town. While it was hosted excellently by the West Suffolk Hive CIC, several members of the BWMG gave talks. Libby Ranzetta talked about Pollution in the River Lark, Jillian Macready talked about the work being done by the BWMG (pictured below) and Andrew Hinchley talked about Using Less Water. All three talks were excellent and well attended given the limited turnout.

The Open Forum session – Pesticide Free BSE – was an opportunity for interested groups and individuals to discuss with Damien Parker (Service Manager of the Operations Leisure and Culture department of West Suffolk Council) and Richard Rout (newly re-elected Suffolk County Councillor for Hardwick division; his portfolio is Cabinet Member for Environment and Public Protection at the County Council). The purpose was to hear about their policies, plans and actions regarding the use of pesticides and herbicides in our area. The discussion, moderated by Ian Miles of the Eco Hive Forum, was lively with several members of the audience, including BWMG members, putting their points and criticisms forcefully. There was a lot of frustration in the room that our Council is not moving as fast as some other councils. There are clearly complications resulting from budget pressures, there being three tiers of local government and the fact that grass cutting and pesticide spraying is contracted out to a number of companies. Land ownership even is not fully understood.

It seemed like many points were heard but we are yet to see whether the criticism and suggestions are turned into action. It would seem obvious that there should be planned and regular consultation meetings if any momentum is to be achieved. Clearly relentless pressure is needed to obtain concrete answers and ensure progress. We cross our fingers but we are not holding our breath. We’re saving that for the struggle ahead.

Iain Carruthers-Jones