Category: Stour Valley

Notes from a riverside garden – February 2021

A bend in the River Stour in the snowy landscape

The river continues to run at a high level with a few days of flooding following a spell of rain. Even relatively small amounts of rainfall propel the river level upwards. Pools of floodwater linger, reluctant to drain away, on the water meadows. The bomb crater, within the water meadow, now resembles a large pond. Debris, left high and dry following the flooding, is caught up in the sheep fence running across the meadow. Sadly this includes an assortment of discarded packaging, plastic bottles etc which have been, at some point, tossed into the river. This mound of debris has been of some assistance to walkers during times of flooding. We have seen them precariously balanced on the debris, hanging onto the barbed wire top strand of fencing for extra support, as they try to negotiate the deep flood water at a higher level. I must say we have had some entertainment observing the antics of walkers. Two men were seen with trousers rolled up, carrying their trainers and wading through the knee high flood water with bare feet. Not an enviable option given the temperature of the water! Two young women were in fits of giggles as the water spilled over into the tops of their wellington boots as they struggled across.   Others have prodded fearfully into the depths with their walking poles and decided to turn back. Dogs have had great fun charging about, spray flying in their wake.

A few days have passed since I wrote the previous paragraph, a blast of very cold weather has arrived with snow, ice and very low overnight temperatures. The temperature last night was forecast to dip to minus ten degrees, the coldest night for ten years. Outside the snow that fell earlier this week still lingers in places. The view across the water meadows is akin to frozen tundra! Our terracotta pots now resemble giant cupcakes with a liberal topping of royal icing!

The bird table has been a hive of activity with a constant flurry of visitors. The robins and blackbirds appear to expend a vast amount of energy chasing each other away from the food supply. In addition to the usual offerings of bird seed, fat balls, insect suet squares (much preferred to the fat balls) and peanuts, I add mealworms and also handfuls of wheat during harsh weather. The wheat is for the pheasants and dare I say for the four pigeons who visit the feeding area. My father, a farmer, would be horrified to know that I feed pigeons!! There is quite a squabble between the pigeons and collared doves if they arrive at the same time. The collared doves usually win and drive the much larger pigeons away.

A beacon of golden yellow at this time is the Hamamelis (witch hazel) on the millpond bank. It is a large specimen and looks fabulous against a clear blue winter sky. We recently planted three young witch hazel’s on the island but due to all the recent flooding they have spent a while with their roots underwater. In flower at the moment but not sure what the long term repercussions of being so water-logged will be. It is relatively fleeting however.

Snow on a flowering bush

Snow on a flowering bush

The intense cold has created some incredible ice sculpture around the garden. Beside the sluice gates spiral formation icicles encase overhanging branches. Further into the garden a truly magical natural wonder awaits where the spray from the weir has created a multitude of extraordinary icicles. The photos below illustrate some of them.

Icicles hanging from a tree by the River Stour

River Stour icicles

Icicles hanging from a tree by the River Stour

River Stour icicles


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 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

Stour Valley Visitor Development Officers appointed

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

Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Project www.

Notes from a riverside garden May 2019

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!

Garden Clippings

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 valley. 

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!