A Wild Riverside on our Doorstep

A Wild Riverside on our Doorstep

Ditching on North Meadow Common, Sudbury; photographed by Adrian Walters

January 2022 Newsletter

Last month’s news referred to the fact that the ‘retired’ Ranger was still undertaking some work out on the riverside. The interesting point is that it puts ‘him’ right back in touch with the wildlife out there instead of just being in the office in the centre of Sudbury.

For the past thirty years ditches have been restored in the pastures and these are now full of wildlife interest. However, the march of succession in terms of plant growth means that eventually they become choked and silted up and their aquatic value declines. Therefore, the JCB with a ditching bucket is brought in every other year to clear sections of ditches and ponds. On a very dull and drab day with a fine drizzle and poor light I returned to this work on a very new hire machine and below are the highlights of what I saw during the day which made the effort very worthwhile.

Kingfisher at Floodgates Pool, Sudbury; photographed by Adrian Walters

Having walked only a few yards on my way to the parked machine I saw a kingfisher sitting on the concrete beam of the tunnel under the Mill hotel. It did not seem inclined to move and sat perfectly still showing off its rusty orange breast and white splashed deep blue wing feathers. However, I knew that getting my camera out makes any wildlife move off in a hurry and in seconds it streaked away across the mill-pool showing off a dazzlingly intense aquamarine back and rump. On this very gloomy and dismal morning its brightness seemed to glow as if from some internal light. One could never ever tire of seeing kingfishers on the river, small though they may be. They are truly our own birds of paradise.

Later that morning I checked the pond where the children’s dipping platform is sited to see whether any vegetation or silt required removing. A quick glance over the fence up the Pike ditch, now often referred to as the Chubb ditch, I noted an eye-catching movement upstream. Was it the flick of a tail or a fish breaching? Before the minute was up, I was watching, at extremely close range, three well grown otter pups. I had heard about these, but to be fortunate enough to watch them as they emerged from the water climbing up the bank and then back into the river, and over tree roots here and there, and all in such an inquisitive way while calling to one another in high pitched squeals. I watched entranced, camouflaged in my overalls, blending in perfectly with the dull morning. For ten minutes I remained spellbound by these creatures. Otters are, of course, very wet when they emerge from the water but the shaping of their fur, into many spear-like points ensures that the water is quickly shed. What a privilege it was to see them and what great good fortune to be there at the right time. It was an experience that I certainly would not have been able to witness when I started working on the riverside over thirty years ago and yet there they were perfectly at home in the bankside habitat that we planted all those years ago. Well, that would be enough to keep anyone’s spirits up but that was not all.

Back on the JCB on the other side of Fullingpit Meadow there was more rank vegetation to draw out of the ditch. Suddenly, a warm ‘conker’ coloured, chestnut brown water vole paddled across the open water. In contract to the otters his coat looked fluffy and bone dry. While we know that water voles are present around the riverside, their numbers are still low, although during the late 1990s they were entirely absent. In fact, the water vole is still Britain’s fastest declining mammal, so it is always a special treat to see one. In addition to habitat loss, North American mink are responsible for the decline although, fortunately, these escaped animals are now rarely present on our riverside. Research suggests that the return of otters to our rivers reduces mink populations so that is particularly good news.

With the work completed it was time to move off with the JCB but all in all that was a day to remember for an exceptionally long time to come.

Adrian Walters, Honorary Freeman of Sudbury and Clerk to the Trustees of the Sudbury Common Lands

Ditching on Freemen’s Great Common, Sudbury; photographed by Adrian Walters