October sees the grazing season drawing to a close and by the end of the month the process of removing the final cattle to their winter farmstead quarters will be underway. The grass has been well eaten-off through the summer and autumn and the cattle have done what domesticated livestock has been doing for a thousand years and more on Sudbury’s riverside. The rich history and timeless management of these areas should never be taken for granted and the pastures should, quite rightly, be protected from all threats and abuses so that they are still there to be enjoyed in the distant future. The legacy of the Freemen, who have preserved their rights in common, cannot be overemphasised. In private ownership these priceless pastures would probably have disappeared under the plough decades ago.
In terms of graziers, the old order is giving way to the new. This season two graziers have shared the riverside pastures during a transition period. This may continue into next year but after that the pastures will be grazed largely by Swiss Brown and Limousin cattle. A big sale of the familiar South Devon cattle took place at the beginning of the month so most of the pastures have already been cleared.
The great tree and shrub planting of thirty or so years ago on the riverside is literally bearing fruit in abundance as the autumn hedgerows colour up with hips and haws and other seeds, fruits, and berries. These will provide a lifeline through the coming months for a wide variety of birds, both native and winter visitors, as well as a range of mammals. Elsewhere landowners are busy neatly trimming their hedges so that they are utterly devoid of any sustenance for wildlife and while they may look wonderfully neat and tidy, they effectively contribute to the ever-increasing decline of wildlife. Well grown hedgerows will provide food in abundance as well as shelter and are essential if we are to see any reverses in the sad thinning and decline of wildlife populations.
Overzealous tidiness is not confined to hedgerows but often to field margins and any area of land that is perceived to be untidy. Humans seem to have a mania for tidiness that is very costly indeed to wildlife. In the past hedging and other work was carried out by hand and was done in rotation so there was always food and refuge for wildlife. Now, efficient machinery makes short work of any perceived untidiness and there must be a change in our approach to the management of our countryside if we are to support and encourage wildlife. Rotational management of hedgerows and scruffy areas is what is required in order to witness wonderful spectacles, whether it be hovering kestrels looking for mice, floating barn owls seeking a scurrying vole or flitting bats eating up thousand insects on long summer evenings.
On a positive note, this autumn has brought a wealth of moths, the like of which we have not witnessed for many decades. The older generation recall car windscreens splattered with an abundance of insects but generally that is an occurrence very much from the past. This year, however, there have been many more months on the wing so perhaps the unusual weather conditions have, by chance, favoured them.
Adrian Walters, Clerk to the Trustees of the Sudbury Common Lands Charity and Honorary Freeman of Sudbury