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.”
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
We are delighted to announce the recent appointment of two Visitor Development Officers for the Stour Valley, Oka Last and Katherine Davies. They will be supporting the promotion of the River Stour Festival and we look forward to working with them. Here they tell us about their new roles.
We have recently been recruited to deliver the LEADER funded ‘Improving the Stour Valley for Visitors’ project, and part of our role will be to support the River Stour Festival in developing and promoting their fantastic programme of activity throughout the valley. We are delighted to be on board, and have enjoyed meeting the rest of the festival committee and learning about the history and ambitions of the festival. We are going to be supporting the festival in 2019 by promoting the programme of events online, assisting with leaflet and poster distributions, attending events and hosting stands to further promote other festival events, and helping the committee with administrative tasks. We also hope to be able to help with securing funding or sponsorship to continue the festival next year, and help develop and coordinate another exciting programme of events and activities for 2020. We are looking forward to being involved in the delivery of such a fantastic festival in such a special place! We know that the events that the festival curates and promotes are very valuable to our overall aim, which is to attract visitors to the valley, and encourage them to stay around for a little while and enjoy the wonderful things that the area has to offer.
Oka Last & Katherine Davies Stour Valley Visitor Development Officers
Our blog post today continues SB’s observations from her garden on the banks of the River Stour. There is plenty of new life in the garden….but predators are never far away!
I was walking through our vegetable garden when I heard a rustling ahead in the stand of dense bamboo beside the pergola path. I crept forward and saw a duck with a large brood of newly hatched ducklings all pushing their way through the bamboo heading towards the mill pond. Once they had safely made their way through I walked to a viewing area of the mill pond and saw the duck then making her way across the water with the brood closely following behind. There is a two foot sheer drop into the mill pond at the point she chose to access it. She was about halfway across the mill pond when I heard a plaintive, “cheep, cheep”, one of the ducklings had been left behind! The duck obviously heard this too and immediately stopped, turned around and the whole party paddled back to collect the straggler. Soon they were all heading off across the mill pond towards the island. We have not seen any of this brood since, it is a very tough world out there for the first broods of ducklings. The weather was cold and predators of ducklings abound.
We are always thrilled to hear the reed warblers
singing their song around the garden.
We eagerly await the first joyful notes emanating from the clumps of
bamboo and denser thickets around the garden which heralds their arrival, this
year it was on Easter Monday. It
ranks with the sighting of the first swallow or hearing the cuckoo across the
A hedgehog is visiting the feeding station near the
house and taking regular drinks from the low dish of fresh water. We have a camera set up to take photos
during the night of the area and we were so pleased when the disappearance of
the hedgehog food could be verified as being eaten by a hedgehog. A neighbour’s cat is also partial to
the tasty morsels so we needed the photographic evidence! Looking through the photos taken
is fascinating as we had no idea the cat was a regular visitor, for
example! Viewing the photos
of the previous night recently we saw the hedgehog moving around the terrace
and then, in the very last photo taken, a badger loomed. Badgers are well known as predators of
hedgehogs! We then had the
long anxious wait until the following morning to see whether the hedgehog was
still with us, or not…………..!
The dish of water is used by many of the birds who
come for food. The ducks dabble in
it, the starlings have a bath and most also have a drink too. I change the water several times each
day. The one footed robin I
mentioned last month has successfully raised two youngsters who are now
independent and are regular visitors to the bird table.
I have just seen what appears to be a large red damselfly resting on a rosebush. Sporting a vivid scarlet body it looked rather striking.
You may be wondering at the outcome of the arrival of the badger mentioned earlier. The hedgehog remains alive and well!
Today’s blog is written by Jules Pretty OBE. Jules is Patron of the River Stour Festival, Professor of Environment and Society at the University of Essex, and author of the 2017 book, The East Country. He will be giving a talk on ‘Nature and Health: How Green Minds Could Help Save Us and the Planet’ at the Quay Theatre in Sudbury on Sunday 2nd June at 7.30pm, followed by a book signing. For more information and to book tickets click here
We know now that
nature produces mental and physical health benefits. Even a five-minute dose of
nature brings immediate wellbeing. All activities work, and most people receive
an additional benefit from social engagement, doing things together. There is
something very ancient going on here: we humans evolved in natural
environments, learned to cooperate, shaped the land for food and resource. Now
we can measure how good this nature and social engagement is for us.
In just the last
two generations, world GDP per person has tripled; in the affluent countries it
has quadrupled. This planet now produces 35% more food per person; infant
mortality has fallen from 150 to 50 per 1,000 live births, in affluent
countries down to 5 per 1,000. But here is the reckoning: we consume more, we
fill the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. We have more stuff, our lives are more
convenient, yet we are not happier. We have solved many infectious diseases,
yet we have stumbled into an era of savage health problems caused by our
behaviours. We have moved further from nature. The way we live today is killing
people in affluent countries – through cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2
diabetes, mental ill health, dementia and loneliness. We are living longer, but
are not sure it will be worth it.
Yet at the same
time, we know from the longevity hotspots what it takes to live well and long.
In Japan, where there are record numbers of happy centenarians, their cultures
encouraging healthy and tasty foods, regular physical activity outdoors, social
connections and continued cognitive engagement.
It surely is not
too much to demand a sustainable planet and contented people. We have
now developed a green mind theory to link the human mind with our brains and
bodies, and connect bodies through behaviours into natural and social
environments. We know this: environments shape bodies, brains and minds; minds
in turn drive body behaviours that shape the external environment. Recent
discoveries come from neuroscience and hormones, from loneliness to longevity
research, from nudge behaviours to choice architecture, and from many spiritual
and wisdom traditions.
The green mind
theory centres on a simple idea that the brain comprises two parts: one red,
one blue. The red brain is ancient, and centres on the bottom brainstem: it is
fast acting, involuntary, and driver of fight-and-flight behaviours. The blue
brain is more recent: it is slower, voluntary, the centre for learning, and
driver of rest-and-digest. The bottom brain reacts before you think and directs
the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The top brain is calming, directing the
parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). A mix of blue and red is best for health
natural selection built a negativity bias into your mind and brain. The
gatekeepers are the amygdala nuclei, deep within the brain’s temporal lobes,
and highly responsive to alerts. To miss one tiger in the bushes meant death to
an ancestor; to run 99 times out of 100 when there was no tiger meant survival.
The brain-mind thus evolved a default mode: fast, automated, fight-flight.
There is no moderation in the amygdala: it is on or off, responding before
thought. The blue brain contains centres for emotions, memory-forming and
bonding. In its cortex are abilities to learn, plan, make choices, and the
social abilities of empathy and language.
Our minds are
built from experiences, and we use the term ‘green mind’ to indicate that there
is an optimal daily mix of mainly blue, with some mild red. Too much red is bad
for health. In modern affluent economies dominated by material consumption and
the manufactured desires for always more, the red mode is over-active. Modern
life is lived on simmer, and now it is our thoughts that bring stress. When the
wolf knocks on the door, there are consequences. Evolution did not give us an
off-switch for the prefrontal cortex, so now today it is thoughts that bring
greater worries than the tiger. Today, most threats seem to come imagined
worries. Towards the end of his life, Mark Twain said: “I am an old man, and
have known many troubles; but most of them never happened.”
and attentiveness quieten the over-active brain and thus improve wellbeing.
Activities that are immersive and involve focused attention reduce oxygen
consumption, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and increase the release of
serotonin and dopamine: we feel better. Green minds are also more pro-social:
they build empathy and trust. Oxytocin increases bonding and understanding
between individuals. Increasing the circle of us might be a way to encourage
greater care for the planet, resulting in the emergence of greener economies.
When the green mind is quiet, the self is stilled. You are not those troubling
thoughts: they come and go. They are clouds on a still pond at dawn.
types of engagement increase regular attentiveness and immersion:
To make these
produce better health and more happiness, each of us needs to develop new
habits. This is always hard. It is why we know what should be good for us, but
so often fail to implement it. Good habits are difficult to develop, bad ones
hard to give up.
We need emphasis
on nature, social and craft engagements in neighbourhoods, schools, care homes
and health-care facilities. Charities and care organisations have a vital role
to play: promoting healthy engagement with nature as part of their mission.
Every child should be outdoors every day; every older person in a care home
should sit in a garden. Every economy should be green and pro-social. Now is
the time for a new ethic: the economy is the environment. Meanwhile, the idea
of the green mind offers routes to both wellbeing and a better planet.