Cricket Bat Willows

Cricket Bat Willows

September 2022 news from the Cornard riverside

Bat Willows marked for felling; Image credit Adrian Walters

As summer progresses the freshness of the pastures spangled with springtime buttercups is replaced by a rather more chewed-off and less inviting vista, particularly, if it hasn’t rained for a long while, which adds to the grassland looking rather tired. However, it is simply part of the annual transition, without which the land would scrub over and eventually become woodland. The grazing tradition is very ancient and is associated with the Freemen of the town so from a historical perspective alone it is an important one to maintain. This is despite economic factors which, on farmland, has seen many changes through the centuries. Grasslands which had supported working horses, and hay meadows for their winter fodder, along with other livestock, were largely ploughed up during the second half of the twentieth century. Farms must move with the times to stay in business, but our traditions mean that there are few alternatives to grazing.

One of the alternatives that farmers favour for riverside land is the growing of cricket bat willows. The charity is able to grow a few of these trees either on the margins of the pastureland or in areas that are generally too wet for grazing.

English willow is the best in the world for making first class cricket bats because of the ideal climate. This is to be expected as the cricket bat willow is a hybrid variety of white willow which is a naturally occurring native tree. Whether this remains the case with climate change remains to be seen. At present there is an insatiable demand for this wood as cricket continues to increase in popularity in many Commonwealth countries.

A number of these cricket bat willows are due to be felled on the Cornard riverside and it is worth remembering that they are grown as a crop. Each felled tree must be replaced with another bat willow which will take about seventeen years to grow to maturity. The intervals between felling are much closer than seventeen years because, over time, trees come to maturity at different times and the whole process becomes unsynchronised. This is positive because it means that there is less impact on the landscape as many trees are left to continue to grow to maturity.

Willow trees are generally disease-free apart from watermark disease which renders the timber unsuitable for bats. Watermark can spread from tree to tree if left unchecked. The requirement is that diseased trees should be felled and burned but on the Cornard riverside burning in not an ideal option on account of the proximity of the weaving factory and housing.

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