Author: Kim Humphreys

The Oak Papers by James Canton – Radio 4 Book of the Week

We are pleased to announce a joint River Stour Festival and Quay Theatre event. This will be a live-streaming event of The Oak Papers by Dr James Canton of Essex University on Wednesday 9th September at the Quay Theatre, Sudbury at 7pm.

This will be a conversation about the book with questions at the end from the audience that have been sent in in advance, lasting around 45 minutes, starting at 7pm.  The event will then be put out on the Quay Theatre’s YouTube channel for several weeks and will be free to watch.

Dr James Canton runs the Wild Writing MA at the University of Essex and has done since its inception in 2009. He is the author of Ancient Wonderings (2017) and Out of Essex: Re-Imagining a Literary Landscape (2013) which was inspired by his rural wandering in East Anglia. He was awarded his PhD by the University of Essex and reviews for the TLSCaught by the River and Earthlines. Dr Canton is a regular on television and radio and lectures frequently.

His book The Oak Papers is due out on 30 July 2020, published by Canongate (£16.99 Hardback). The book is Radio 4’s Book of the Week for the week commencing 3rd August (listen here). James will also feature on BBC Look East next week so watch out for that.

The Oak Papers is a stunning, meditative and healing book about the lessons we can learn from the natural world, if only we slow down enough to listen. James Canton spent two years sitting with and studying the Honywood Oak. A colossus of a tree, it would have been a sapling when Magna Carta was signed. Inevitably he needs to slow down in order to appreciate it fully, to tune in to its slower time frame, to connect with the ecosystem that lives around it, inside it and beneath it. He examines our long-standing dependency on oak trees, and how that has developed and morphed into myth and legend. We no longer build our houses and boats from them or grind their acorns into flour in times of famine; physically we don’t need them in the same way now. Or do we?

Media reviews:

This is a profound meditation on the human need for connection with nature, as one man seeks solace beneath the boughs of an ancient oak tree. The tree and its surrounds come to life in shimmering detail, and Canton’s writing has an exquisite, somewhat dreamlike quality. PETER WOHLLEBEN, author of The Hidden Life of Trees

James Canton knows so much, writes so well and understands so deeply about the true forest magic and the important place these trees have in it. Knowledge and joy. SARA MAITLAND

With rare delicacy and precision, James Canton has captured the magnificence and mystique of the oak tree. The Oak Papers is a book of deep knowledge, perception and love. PHILIP MARSDEN

This is a moving, poetic and life-affirming exploration of the idea that a person can form a rich and rewarding bond with an individual tree. The Oak Papers possesses great sensitivity, real wisdom and a deep mystical power. PATRICK BARKHAM

Praise for James Canton:

Intensely alive to the landscape; its pasts, people and creatures. ROBERT MACFARLANE
Canton . . . is a stalker of literary ghosts, following traces across the Essex countryside that might lead him to the writers who might have lived and worked among these landscapes. Times Literary Supplement

Notes from a riverside garden July 2020

This blog post comes from SB with her observations of the flora and fauna in her garden on the banks of the River Stour. Lockdown brought an added peace to the river and its wildlife; with restrictions now easing the river again is attracting human visitors. 

With the slight easing of lockdown the tranquillity of the river has come to an abrupt end with the sudden influx of people whether in canoes, on paddleboards, swimming or enjoying the riverbank environment, particularly on the warm, sunny days of late. It has been remarkably busy along this stretch of river at times as people enjoy the freedom of being out and about again. I imagine this sudden change must have come as rather a shock to the river and riverbank dwellers who no doubt relished the lack of disturbance particularly during the breeding season.

We had an unexpected visitor in the millpond for a couple of weeks. A large red-eared terrapin was seen sunbathing for most of each day on one of the fallen tree branches. It would climb out of the water, make its way a short distance up the tree branch and find a comfortable position in the full sun.   It appeared to have found the perfect spot but then vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.

The pair of swans now have three cygnets. Only recently hatched they are venturing out onto the river with their mother. One of the routes back to the nest within the lake involves negotiating a small weir with a raised “step” either side of a fast running middle sluice.   Yesterday we observed the family returning to the nest via the weir. Mother easily negotiated the step but the small cygnets were having difficulties and only the tops of their heads were visible. She called to them but despite their best efforts they were unable to clamber over. She then went back down the step and with much vocal encouragement took them to the edge of the weir where some debris had built up and once again she returned into the lake. One by one the little chaps scrabbled up through the debris, the last one making a big effort but eventually all were safely in the lake and heading for the nest through the reed bed. We have now placed a couple of bricks in position to aid them until they grow a touch larger!

A cygnet rescue mission happened the following day when I noticed the mother trying to get them out of the river via a too steep area of the bank. Eventually she gave up and took them back up river. I wondered how she would guide them back to the nest via this route and hoped she wouldn’t try coming down the fast flowing main river weir with them. A short while later I spotted the mother with just one cygnet coming up through the area where we had placed the bricks previously. I rushed around to peer down into the swirling river below the weir and there were the other two cygnets looking decidedly sodden and cheeping pitifully! I rushed indoors for my husband’s fishing net thinking I may be able to scoop them out and reunite with the family. By the time I had got back to the river they had made their way downstream from the weir and were heading for the inlet to the lake. They obviously had a homing instinct of some sort and needed very little guidance from me back into the lake. Then faced with a forest of reeds it took them a while to find the channel made by the parents back to the nest. Meanwhile the mother seemed oblivious to the fact that two of her three youngsters were missing! She did eventually call to them when their frantic cheeping got closer to her and they were all reunited once more. I am not sure that swans have the best parenting skills! Perhaps this is her first brood.   I have now made a slipway in the bank where they originally tried to leave the river to enable the cygnets to scramble up, hopefully! This is the route the parents often use to return to the lake across the island.

Having time to observe the wildlife in the garden has made us more aware of the individual ducks that spend their time here. A pair of ducklings appeared to be abandoned by their mother when half grown for one reason or another. They have survived and are always together, very seldom seen apart. We have named them “The Twins” as they are inseparable it seems. Several ducklings have made it through the perilous early days and are now brought by their mothers to the duck feeder on the lawn or up to the terrace outside the kitchen window for food.   On average it seems four ducklings survive from the original large brood.   We are still seeing the occasional late brood of small ducklings being guided into the reeds for safety when out and about in the garden. Two Mandarin females also join the large group of Mallard lounging about on the lawn. A young moorhen, still not fully mature, seems to rule the roost. Its antics darting about chasing the ducks and generally acting in a thuggish way is hilarious to watch.

Two of our previously used nest boxes have been taken over by what we think are tree bumblebees. One of the bumblebee colonies has occupied a sparrow terrace nest box and a nest box beneath was being used by a blue tit. Thankfully, the arrival of the bumblebees took place in the final days of the feeding of its young. The unfortunate blue tit had to brave the bumblebees circling around the nest box entrance above.   I observed the blue tit hastily leaving its nest box accompanied by two or three unimpressed bumblebees on several occasions! It would then perch on the pyracantha beneath furiously scratching at its presumably stung face.   The bumblebees will be in residence for a few months and then disappear.   They are not a nuisance to us so we are happy to let nature take its course. The blue tit soon vacated the area along with its young seemingly none the worse for the experience.

A large clump of yellow flag irises at the edge of the millpond has become a regular gathering and resting site for a multitude of banded demoiselles. These are fabulous insects with the most iridescent blue body and black bands on their wings. Seeing them all clustered together is quite a spectacle.

Aphids seem to be a major problem with infestations on honeysuckle, lupins, roses to name but a few. However, I observed a large blue tit family deftly removing the aphids from a climbing rose on the pergola. The young blue tits darting about picking off the tasty morsels.

We were recently thrilled to see several swallows, martins and swifts, swirling together over the river as they hunted for insects. Having read reports of reduced numbers arriving this spring this was a most uplifting sight.    SB

The Essex bank of River Stour estuary becomes part of AONB

 This week has seen England’s first extension to an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) in nearly 30 years .

The Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB has been expanded by about 38 sq km (14.6 sq miles) – almost a tenth of its size – to include the Stour Estuary, stretching from Manningtree to Harwich in Essex, and a tributary of the estuary called the Samford Valley. This means that both the Suffolk and Essex banks of the Stour estuary are now part of the AONB.

The map shows existing parts of the AONB in light pink, with the new additions in darker pink, taking in the Essex bank of the Stour, woodland at Freston and Samford Valley between East Bergholt, Brantham and Stutton.

The northern banks of the River Stour, in Suffolk, already had the designation and campaigners have pressed for it to be extended to Essex for decades. The expansion will enable businesses and tourist sites to promote the area as an AONB and access relevant grants.

David Wood, chairman of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB Partnership, said: “We are delighted that this order has been confirmed. The AONB partnership, made up of public private and third sector organisations, has had an aspiration to bring the benefits of the designation to a wider area for over 20 years. Locally we have always known that the area identified in the order was outstanding, and with this news we can be confident that the natural beauty of the area will be conserved and enhanced for future generations.”

Read more from BBC news website



Notes from a riverside garden May 2020

Due to coronavirus, the country is in lockdown but the countryside in the Stour Valley is full of activity and growth. SB brings us the latest observations from  her beautiful garden on the banks of the River Stour. 

May Garden Clippings 

The garden has been a great help to us during this time of lockdown, providing a calming environment and a place to enjoy the fresh air and knuckle down to tasks whether it be weeding, mowing or pricking out seedlings, there is always something to absorb oneself in.

A pair of swans have now built a nest in the reedy mere on the island. We were doubtful this was going to happen but delighted when construction began. It is a laborious task with reeds having to be pulled up and painstakingly assembled to create a large raised structure. Reeds and other vegetation need to be continuously added during the nesting period as the lower level turns to mulch and sinks in the damp environment. No eggs so far. The swans are very partial to the emergent weeping-willow leaves and nibble away at the level they can reach of the trailing branches, leaving bare twigs at an even height all round.

We have two or three families of ducklings. The surviving broods are few in number but the ducklings seem to be thriving. A duck brings her three ducklings up to the terrace outside our kitchen window for the food we provide followed by a drink and a quick swim in a tray of water nearby. It is so amusing watching them tuck into the food then all clambering into the water tray. A step had to be provided initially but now they can access the water with ease. Mother duck sits nearby as they entertain themselves. On colder days they tuck themselves under her wings for warmth.

We have been waiting to hear the melodious song of the reed warbler in the garden. On the 2nd May we heard them in two locations. They return to the dense stands of bamboo each year and their fabulous song bursts forth and fills the air. Spring has truly arrived! We have heard the cuckoo but to date no sign of swallows, swifts or martins. Our small flock of sparrows seems to have disappeared. We are not sure why, perhaps a better food source elsewhere or due to predation, though the later is not explained by the abundance of chaffinches, goldfinches and greenfinches still present.

A small common lizard was spotted sunning itself on a leaf in a border close to our front door. It seemed unperturbed when we walked past. We discovered the discarded skin of a large snake on the island, probably a grass snake as we do see them from time to time basking in the sun on warm days.

We have planted a clump of dark blue camassia on the bank of our water garden. They do look impressive and the bees enjoy them too. A pale blue variety is not looking so vigorous planted in a different area of the garden.

Elsewhere one of our wisteria, with a double mauve flower is in full bloom. The white wisteria on the pergola is covered in flower buds and we eagerly await the spectacle to come. It really is magnificent and a joy to walk beneath the racemes suspended from above.

             In the walled garden

We are always on the lookout for scats around the garden which gives us a good clue as to who is visiting. Having not seen any evidence of hedgehogs for some time, we were feeling rather despondent.   However, we recently spotted fresh hedgehog droppings! They are still with us, albeit in a different area of the garden. We were concerned as we do have regular visits from badgers but given the abundance of other food sources we are hopeful they will leave the hedgehogs alone.

Across in the meadow the first pinpricks of yellow are appearing as the buttercups start to make their vivid entrance. A meadow full of buttercups is a fabulous sight. In the distance, there is a froth of white May blossom delineating the route of the branch line.

I have been trying to identify the wildflowers as they emerge in the area of lawn we are leaving uncut. Nothing particularly unusual so far but we have had several Lady’s Smock/Cuckoo Flower ( I prefer to use the common names) a food plant of the orange tip butterfly caterpillar. Ground Ivy, Common Mouse-ear, Jack-by-the-hedge, Plantain, dandelion, buttercups and daisies. The area is busy with bees and butterflies, which is exactly what we intended it for. SB

Notes from a Riverside Garden – March

Our blog post today comes from SB writing about her beautiful garden on the banks of the Stour. Signs of spring are evident, something to cheer us in theses uncertain times.

We seem to have several pairs of swans vying for the territory around us. Two pairs live in reasonably close proximity to each other on the water meadows opposite. One pair are often seen in the flooded bomb crater (a legacy of the second world war when bombs were jettisoned over the village). The crater fills during times of flood and creates a shallow pool which is frequented by ducks, swans and recently a little egret was seen inspecting the area. Another pair stay down by the bridge and a third pair are in the garden. Occasional confrontations occur but generally without too much aggression involved.

A female goosander duck took up residence in the garden for a few days. We watched her diving in the millpool and then surfacing a distance away. Goosander hunt for fish. She sat companionably with the mallards on the banks when not hunting. She has now departed and hopefully will find a mate further along the river.

We are leaving a large lawn unmown this year. We have mown pathways around the edge and through the centre so that we can still walk beside the river and through to other areas of the garden. We shall strim around the trees planted in the lawn but otherwise leave it to nature’s own devices. This lawn has never been treated for moss or any other weeds. We do not do this on any of our lawns as sterile grass is not particularly attractive in our opinion. Daisies, clover, moss and even the occasional dandelion are welcomed!

We recently purchased a blueberry bush, which is now in a large pot and provided with the required ericaceous compost. We have wanted to “try” a blueberry bush for some time as friends have had abundant crops of berries from their plants.

Pruning is our main task at the moment. Probably a bit late but the weather has been so atrocious for several weekends now. Climbing roses and wisteria on the pergola, sambucus nigra, salix and cornus dotted around the garden.

A sign that spring is on the way was a fabulous Brimstone butterfly spotted flying in the garden this morning. The warm sunshine and blue sky lifting everyone’s spirits! SB

Notes from a riverside garden – January and February

 In our blog we catch up with SB and her wonderful seasonal notes from her beautiful garden on the River Stour. After January flooding, February sees signs of spring with spring flowers appearing and birds showing nesting activity.


The Christmas decorations have been put away for another year and we are now a few days into January. The river was in flood just prior to Christmas and spilled over onto the natural flood plain of the water meadows opposite. The flocks of gulls, rooks and assorted waterfowl soon descended in large numbers to forage on the temporary wetland. Parts of our garden were submerged for a day or two. The water roared through the sluice gates into the millpond creating turbulent rapids in its haste and quantity. We opened all the sluice gates to aid the flow downstream. After the water level had subsided, we were left with a sticky, slippery, quagmire of mud/silt over all the previously flooded areas. After each subsequent rainfall the slowly drying mud resumes its best efforts to attach itself to wellingtons, dog paws and wheelbarrow wheels! The tide line of detritus left on the pergola bank has been raked up and all the litter removed including a single large flip-flop and the remains of a gardening glove! Any further rainfall seems to result in the river level rising, perhaps not surprising considering the sheer amount of rainfall we have experienced throughout the autumn and into the winter so far.

Another flood issue we had to contend with was a very large willow bough which had been cut off upstream and then carried along in the flow, finally wedging itself in the sluice gates. Not an easy job to remove it as it had jutting out branches which snagged in the reeds and on the riverbank. A rope had to be tied to it and between us we managed to haul it out of the sluice gates and against the flow towards the bank. Paul then had to chop it up into sections on the waters edge, haul each waterlogged section out (not an easy task up to your ankles in slippery mud) and then pull the remaining bough further along to the edge of the bank until it was all reduced to manageable pieces. Needless to say the washing machine was put to good use later for our mud covered clothes!

The cormorants are back in large numbers. A group of seven or eight are regularly seen flying over the river. The millpond seems to be a favoured hunting ground with two or three diving for fish regularly. They are successful most of the time and one wonders how the fish stocks can cope with the predation of these consumers of large quantities of good size fish. They perch high up in the poplars looking almost prehistoric and sit with their wings open, drying them off. The little grebes are also present. Such charming little chaps, diving and bobbing along on the surface.

We have seen otter prints in the mud but no actual sightings of late. The resident Michigan blueback pheasant has discovered it can reach one of our wild bird seed feeders and stands on the wall outside our kitchen window, helping himself. Yesterday I spotted him in hot pursuit of a hen pheasant on the back lawn. The hen pheasant was obviously not impressed by his attentions and was running here, there and everywhere to get away from him! Diving in and out of the hedge and running to and fro across the lawn, in the end she took off to find a quieter area of the garden!


Buzzards are a fairly common sight in this area nowadays. Recently, one was circling above the millpond at quite a low altitude. Several ducks lined up in single file by the duck feeder, waiting their turn to feed, were immediately on high alert, standing to attention, very aware of the potential threat above. Suddenly they all took off in unison and flew into the millpond, feeling safer on the water. The buzzard did a final circle and then leisurely drifted off.

It is just a few days into February and spring flowers are appearing everywhere: snowdrops, dwarf irises, hellebores, pulmonaria to name a few and also daffodils in bud.   The ducks are seeking nesting sites. A favoured place is on top of a very tall Leylandii hedge. Pairs can often be seen on the flat top and sometimes a head might pop out from further down the hedge!   Skirmishes between males often erupt in the river and mating has already begun. The lazy days of winter seem to be forgotten and spring is definitely in the air.

We divided several clumps of snowdrops last spring and our efforts are now being rewarded with a greatly improved display on the millpond bank.

Snowdrops on the island

For a few days we had a visiting drake Mandarin duck in amongst the usual crowd of mallards. Such a handsome chap! Today I have seen a pair of reed buntings visiting the bird table.

The swans are fiercely protecting their patch with much puffing of feathers and chasing off of any interlopers. Sadly, a swan recently hit the electricity lines which run across the water meadow opposite us. The lines have attachments called diverters suspended from them which rotate in the wind and alert the swans to the danger. I have read that they also contain crystals which absorb and emit purple ultraviolet light so the birds can see them at dawn, dusk or in the dark. Usually the swans fly up and over the lines but on this occasion, for whatever reason, the swan misjudged.

We mounted two sparrow terrace boxes last spring on the gable end of our garage, below the existing box.   As expected, due to their newness, nothing nested in them last year. I was pleased to see a blue tit investigating each nest box recently. Popping in and out of each of the six access holes, working its way systematically across the terrace! Ideally we would prefer the sparrows to use the boxes but the blue tit was obviously very interested in the potential nesting site. SB

Notes from a riverside garden September 2019

Garden Clippings

Autumn and harvest time has arrived in SB’s garden, with mixed yields. Apologies for the late posting of this latest edition of Garden Clippings.

I’m afraid there will be very few Victoria plum pies this winter as our tree produced only a handful of plums.  Likewise, the greengage trees had very little to harvest and certainly not enough to warrant any attempt at jam making.  Our apple crop is equally dismal with no Bramley or Arthur Turner cooking apples.

I have just walked around the garden for some inspiration!  I noticed the viburnum beetle are beginning to transform the leaves of the Viburnum opulus, Guelder Rose, into lacy reincarnations of their previous forms.  Such a shame as the Guelder Rose shrubs look so attractive at this time with numerous clusters of scarlet berries.  Further on the Viburnum tinus is also falling foul to the beetles.  Later, a strong, extremely unpleasant smell will accompany the damaged leaves.  Signs of autumn are revealing themselves with leaves turning a dark red at the very tips of branches on the Acer.  More obvious coloration is visible on the Cornus nuttallii in the vegetable garden.  Rose hips and hawthorn berries adorn the hedge. 

The runner beans are almost over but tomatoes and courgettes are still plentiful.  Alongside the vegetables I grow dahlias as I like a mix of flowers and vegetables in the vegetable garden.  The dahlias are still flowering well but once the frosts come, I will dig them all up and put into storage this year.  I left most of them in situ last winter, covered in straw but I did lose a few as a result.  Our ‘friends’ the voles, who seem to be extremely prolific this year, are still in residence in the greenhouse and help themselves to low growing tomatoes!  The cherry type seems to be the favoured!   Thankfully they do not appear to have acquired a liking for peppers, as I have these in pots on the floor of the greenhouse too. 

Many bees are still seen foraging on late blooming plants and accompanied by butterflies on warm, sunny days.  The moorhens have had a late brood and two bundles of black fluff dart about the back lawn following their mother.   A group of what appear to be juvenile ducks regularly gather on the lawn too. The ducks are accompanied by a lone female swan, who seems to be a new addition to the regular visitors to the garden. 

On hot days the river has been busy with canoes and folk out enjoying the scenery and the sunshine.  Canoeing seems to be growing in popularity and involves people of all ages.  Many are accompanied by their canine pal sporting a life vest and enjoying the ride.  We enjoy the camaraderie of the canoeists and their more often than not friendly waves, as they pass us by.  SB

Notes from a riverside garden – August 2019

Our blog post today comes from SB writing about August in her idyllic garden on the banks of the River Stour.  This month she tells us of some breeding successes and some sadder outcomes.

I write from our study overlooking the millpond.  Looking out of the window I can see a heron standing on one of the semi-submerged branches of the fallen poplar, peering into the water, using his convenient vantage point to hunt from.  We think it is a youngster as it seems far less wary of movement in the house than other herons have been.  We are so pleased we didn’t “tidy up” and have the fallen tree removed as it has proved to be such a benefit to various birds in the garden.  A cormorant was standing with its wings outstretched recently, drying off in the sunshine.  The grey wagtails are frequently seen there as are the kingfishers.  Underwater it provides hiding places and habitat for the fish.

Beyond the millpond is a wartime pillbox.  It is used by peacock butterflies for shelter and to hibernate on the internal walls.  There has been a massacre of the butterflies by an unknown culprit.  All that remain are the lifeless wings, littering the dirt floor like macabre confetti.

In a mature white willow tree there is a dead, suspended branch, a result of storm damage, high up and in not too perilous a position for those of us below, if it should fall!   A pair of kestrels have nested in the hollow created by the snapped branch.  We can observe them hunting over the water meadow opposite for small mammals amongst the long grass.

Spotted flycatchers have returned to the garden.  Such a joy to watch them performing their acrobatics as they hunt from the trees and overhead wires.  They were late arrivals this summer.

Paul was walking along the pergola path when he came face to face with a young water rail.  It tried to seek refuge behind a shrub but as my husband got closer it flew across the millpond into a reed bed.  This is clearly good news as it confirms the successful breeding of the adults, which we captured on camera last winter.

The mallard and swans have had a poor breeding season.  Very few ducklings survived and only two of the seven cygnets.  The cygnets suffered heavy predation and the family very rapidly dwindled in number after hatching. 

For the last few days the air has been filled with the high-pitched whistle and flashes of the bullet-like blur of blue as kingfishers hurtle back and forth across the millpond and up and down the river.   Two have been seen fighting and it would appear that when in flight they are chasing each other.   Perhaps the youngsters are being chased away from the parents’ “patch” or invaders have come in and need to be seen off!  There is certainly a lot of frantic activity which we haven’t witnessed before.  We sat beside the millpond, with a glass of wine, fascinated by their antics yesterday evening.  SB

Notes from a riverside garden – June 2019

We continue our notes from SB’s beautiful garden on the banks of the River Stour. This month there is drama as a youngster gets separated from its mother on the millpond!

The seven cygnets hatched at the end of May after what seems to be a lengthy incubation period although it appears the swan takes up residence on the nest for a while before the eggs are laid.  She sits there through all weather conditions and rarely leaves her position.  It is always a joy to see the new arrivals and to take a head count.  On our return from a day at the Suffolk Show we heard a plaintive cheeping coming from the mill pond.  Investigation revealed a lone tiny cygnet swimming around and around the millpond calling forlornly for its absent family!   We leapt into action rushing to get a large fishing landing net in order to scoop up the little bundle.  We were unsure whether we would need to launch the rowing boat or whether we could entice it over to us.  Thankfully it came to us and was delicately lifted into the net!  I rushed up to the nest on the island to see if the family were there or elsewhere in the garden.  Thankfully she had returned to the nest with the rest of the brood and I must say seemed oblivious to the fact one of her youngsters was absent!   We carefully placed the adventurer in the reeds close to the nest and with much cheeping on its part it made its way back to the nest.  We suspect the family had been in the river above the sluice gates and this little chap had accidentally fallen through the gates into the millpond below.  We have since seen the swan come through the gates, (there is quite a drop down onto the concrete sluice below), followed slightly reluctantly by the cygnets leaping into the abyss to follow her!

The hedgehog continues to return every night for its food.  The water dish is visited so many times by it and on one occasion the hedgehog was actually standing in the bowl of water!  We have seen a pair of hedgehogs in the vicinity of the feeding station at times too, and they are often together rooting around on the back lawn.

Beside our front door we have a dense honeysuckle growing up the wall.  A  song thrush’s nest has been built inside and she seems unperturbed by our comings and goings.  We have sparrows nesting under an eave at the back of the house. 

We have planted several clematis around the garden over the years.  We lost, amongst others, a ‘Princess Diana’ clematis to field vole damage a few years ago, a sizeable plant which suddenly started to wilt and eventually died as the stems had been eaten through close to ground level.  We planted a new ‘Princess Diana’ in our vegetable garden this spring and to our dismay we noticed it starting to wilt and looked down to see one or two of the new stems chopped through – the voles!  They are an irritation in our garden.  Particularly in the greenhouse where they nibble off my seedlings as they are very nimble climbers of both plants and staging.  I balance seed trays on upturned flowerpots to keep seedlings out of harms way as it is so very annoying to find the first leaves all nipped off and only a stalk left!  We took action with the clematis and wrapped a plastic tree protector around the remaining live stems at ground level and all now seems to be well.  We have spotted a barn owl hunting over the water meadows recently; I am sure it will have no problem finding plenty of voles, which is good news for the owl at least!

We take great pleasure from nature assisting us with planting in the garden.  Foxgloves appear in perfect positions.  Verbena bonarensis self-seed and it is rarely necessary to move the plants from where they emerge.  A wild rose is climbing through a large conifer and looks fabulous with its pale pink flowers against the dark foliage.  Later it produces vivid orange rose hips which look stunning.  Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican Fleabane) appears in paving cracks and in gaps in the garden walls; again we leave most of these wherever they appear.  The garden is constantly evolving with the helping hand of nature itself.

I have grown plants particularly with bees and insects in mind for many years.  It is such a joy to watch the bees, of various types, merrily going about their business in the garden.  I so enjoy watching the activity and busyness they display which so greatly enhances and brings to life our borders and wild places.  SB

The Stour Valley Path is 25 years old!

Our blog post today comes from Alex Hewitt, the SVP 25th Anniversary Officer of the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Project. 

We will be posting more about the Stour Valley Path in coming weeks.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Stour Valley Path, a long-distance walking route that stretches over 60 miles, through Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Essex. It closely follows the River Stour, from its source near Newmarket, to where it joins the estuary at Cattawade, near Manningtree. This meandering, tranquil route will take you through a landscape of gently rolling hills, woodlands, riverside pastures and over 20 picturesque towns and villages.

To mark this anniversary, two main initiatives are being launched. Firstly, the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Stour Valley is redoubling its efforts to improve the quality of the footpath. More way-marker posts will be installed to help guide walkers along the route, along with more way-marker discs to ensure clear direction and help walkers feel more secure on their journey. Once bird nesting season has passed, more of the route will be cleared of vigorous up-growth and side-growth, that would otherwise hamper walkers on the path and reduce the experience of walking through the Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley area.

Secondly, an initiative titled the “Stour Valley Path Passport” will be launched this summer. Walkers will be able to obtain the Passport, and use it to collect stamps from participating locations, whether that be a church, tea-room, or pub. This will encourage the walking of the length of the Stour Valley Path and reward those who complete the entire route, as they can claim a Certificate of Completion upon doing so. And should they finish the route in 2019, the year of the 25th anniversary, then some modest prizes will also be provided.

For more information about the Passport, please contact or see

Alex Hewitt,Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Project