News from the Riverside – May
The Sudbury Common Lands pastures have a long- recorded history of grazing stretching back to the twelfth century. Over eight hundred years later this historical connection continues. Without cattle, the incredibly long cultural tradition would be broken and with it much of the wildlife associated with grazing would disappear.
This year two graziers have their cattle on the Sudbury Common Lands; the familiar South Devons on the southern pastures are joined by Simmentals and Limousins on North Meadow Common. The Simmental originates from a single valley in the Swiss Alps but is now found the world over as a dual-purpose milk and beef breed. The Limousin, introduced to Britain in 1971, is an extremely popular beef breed originating in the Massif Central in France. As is the norm on the Common Lands, there is a mix of steers and heifers. There are never ever any bulls regardless of whether an animal has horns or not. Distancing from grazing cattle should always be observed and dogs should be kept under close control, even more so when cattle are newly arrived and settling down.
The traditional day for farmers to move their livestock from winter quarters to grass was 1st May. The charity’s minutes record the annual turning on of livestock and this was usually on or close to 1st May unless the weather had been particularly inclement. Prior to the formation of the Sudbury Common Lands Charity in 1897 the duty to determine whether the grass was fit and ready for grazing fell to the town mayor.
As part of the charity’s centenary celebrations the tradition of inspecting the grass was resurrected and now takes place every five years. The simple ceremony reflects the ancient association of the Sudbury Freemen who have rights in common on this land and serves as a reminder that ancient customs associated with grazing were in place many centuries ago. In the current colourful ceremony, the Freemen macebearers escort the mayor over the pastures followed by other Freemen and Trustees of the Sudbury Common Lands Charity.
The Sudbury riverside is unique, and the pomp and procession of the ceremony serves as a reminder as to how incredibly special the Sudbury Common Lands are. As such they should remain so to the admiration and not a little envy of many visitors to the town as well as for the enjoyment of everyone. They should, however, never be taken for granted. Sadly, as a result of circumstances beyond our control, this year’s ceremony has had to be cancelled.
Adrian Walters (Clerk to the Trustees of the Sudbury Common Lands Charity and Ranger)