The shortening days mean that growth has slowed down, and trees and plants are entering dormancy. They have worked hard to bloom and produce seeds to perpetuate themselves with new growth and plants in the future. It also means that the cattle are departing to their winter quarters as the riverside grasslands can no longer sustain them.
Although birds and most animals still go about their business trying to eke out a living, there is less abundance than during the heady days of summer. However, where hedgerows are left to flower and fruit, birds and animals will find sustenance and shelter but nowadays they must travel further to find hedgerows that are not flailed into beautiful neatness, but with barely a single fruit or berry remaining.
Out on the riverside hedges are left to grow and provide cover and food for wildlife. It seems the least that we can do and even the Melford Road hedge, although neat and tidy along the roadside, is never ever trimmed on the meadow side so it can provide the nutrition to help wildlife through the short cold days of winter. Hips of the dog rose and haws of the hawthorn immediately spring to mind, but there are many other shrubs and small trees that produce berries. Berries are generally very fleshy precisely in order to attract birds and mammals. In this way the seeds within are disbursed and ‘offspring’ of the host shrub or tree may be able to establish elsewhere.
As Christmas is not far off, we shall begin thinking about holly and ivy, two evergreen plants that show up well once all the deciduous leaves have fallen. Both plants had important associations with our pagan past simply because they remain green, and they were also important in the festival of Beltane which took place on Mayday. Interestingly, on this day cattle were driven between fires burning holly and ivy to ensure the fertility of the herd. This coincidently is our ‘turning on’ day when the cattle can come back to all the riverside pastures.
It is a shame that we tend to despise ivy so much simply because it winds its way up trees, as it was a symbol of everlasting life. Through the winter it provides essential cover for a huge range of wildlife by providing shelter as well as food. Besides the berries that are eaten by the birds, the presence of Muntjac deer can be recognised clearly by the removal of all the ivy leaves within reach on tree trunks.
Adrian Walters, Honorary Freeman of Sudbury and Clerk to the Trustees of the Sudbury Common Lands Charity