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Outdoor and Environmental Learning in the Stour Valley

There are many organisations in the Stour Valley which provide some form of outdoor learning about the special qualities of the Stour Valley to children and young people either as formal or informal education. The Stour Valley Educational Network (SVEN) brings together the organisations involved in the delivery of environmental education and outdoor learning in the Stour Valley, in both Suffolk and Essex.  It is a forum for sharing ideas and best practice and to encourage wider involvement in environmental education and outdoor learning in the area.

A recent 2019 survey of SVEN partners has revealed that there is some wonderful education happening in the valley. The table below highlights the results from 15 partners:

335 school visits

114 community group visits

115 community events

14,200 children & young people engaged with some form of outdoor education
Most come from the villages within the Stour Valley then Sudbury, Manningtree, Colchester, Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich 75% study science topics, followed by geography, history and other activities e.g. forest school, art
The main age range is primary school, and most visits are annual Groups visit because they like the location, uniqueness of site and price of visit
Some SVEN partners provide activities for people with mental health needs and those not in education, employment or training. Some SVEN partners work with adults, children and young people with learning and physical disabilities.  Some work with ethnic minority groups and refugees.

 One event that attracts lots of families is Wild in the Stour Valley, on Friday 29th May 11:00am – 4:00pm, at Mill Acre Pond, Croft road, Sudbury CO10 1HR. A FREE hands-on family day out with lots of fantastic outdoor activities provided by SVEN partners such as kayaking, minibeast hunts, wild arts and crafts, chicks and pond dipping.

Stour Surrounding – Artists and the Valley

As part of the ‘Improving the Stour Valley for Visitors’ project, a new film aiming to celebrate the art heritage and artistic activities available in the valley has been made.

‘Stour Surrounding – Artists and the Valley’ is a documentary film that takes a look at artists both past and present who have responded to the landscape of the Stour Valley. In the film we hear how this special landscape – of Constable, Gainsborough and Munnings – continues to shape and speak to the work of contemporary artists today. Moving between studio interviews and beautiful footage across the valley we hear from painter and sculptor Maggi Hambling who speaks of ‘absorbing’ the landscape, and from Simon Carter, May Cornet and several others who talk expressively about how they respond to the Stour Valley and landscape in their own individual ways. Other contemporary artists featured include Michael Carlo, Chris Dobrowolski and Freddie Robins.

The film is currently being screened at various venues around East Anglia, including Ipswich, Great Yarmouth and Felixstowe. For more information about these screening events, please see our events listings. When this initial tour of viewings is finished, the film will be made available for community groups, schools, collages, art centres, libraries, galleries and venues to borrow for further showings.

The film has been produced by artist Jevan Watkins Jones with Offshoot Films.  It was commissioned by the ‘Improving the Stour Valley for Visitors’ project, which is hosted by the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Stour Valley Project and funded by The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

For further information, please e-mail


Funding available for creative events within the Borough of Colchester

If you’re looking to deliver an event within the Colchester Borough area of the Stour Valley (as shown on the above map), then check out the ‘Colchester Creative Events Fund 2020-21’.

The Council is making available a total of £20,000 to support creative events taking place in the Borough of Colchester between 1st of May 2020 and 30th April 2021. This funding is available to events which complement the Council’s strategic aims and achieve at least two of the following objectives:

  • Deliver a high-quality cultural experience to a local audience
  • Develop and showcase local artistic talent
  • Encourage visitors to the Borough
  • Celebrate local communities

Registered charities constituted voluntary and community organisations, and not-for-profit groups and organisations are eligible to apply for this funding, requesting any amount between £200 and £1500. The closing date for applications is Sunday 19 January 2020.

For more information and the application form and guidelines, visit:

Don’t forget to send us details of your event, so that it can be listed within the River Stour Festival programme and promoted on your behalf.

Green Minds and Good Health 

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 and happiness.

But beware: 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.”

Immersion 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.

Three types of engagement increase regular attentiveness and immersion:

  • Nature engagement
  • Social engagement
  • Craft engagement

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.

Jules Pretty

Notes from a riverside garden – April 2019

Our blog post today comes from SB with her Garden Clippings, seasonal observations from her beautiful garden on the banks of the River Stour. 

As I write an early morning frost can be seen on the lawn through the window.  We have had one or two cold nights recently and the resulting frosts have damaged newly emerging leaves on our cladrastis lutea (American Yellow Wood) and the Korean maple has also suffered.  The heating is still on in the greenhouse for such cold snaps but regularly the door needs to be opened during the day when the temperature soars in the sunshine. 

I fear I am behind with my seed sowing but I have planted out some onion sets and I have Charlotte seed potatoes chitting which will soon be ready for planting.  The greenhouse is so full of tender plants it is difficult to find space for seed trays too!  My potting shed contains several flower pots of dahlia tubers so space is limited there also. 

A male pigeon is performing his courtship “bowing” to a somewhat unimpressed female on the garden wall as I glance outside.  The new sparrow terraces remain unoccupied.  We suspected this would be the case for the first year but hopefully they will be more tempting to the several sparrow pairs in the garden next spring.  However, the original terrace has at least one nesting pair in it.  Another pair have a nest in the honeysuckle trained up the wall beside our front door.  This has proved to be a popular nesting site in past years too.

One of the robins resident here has only one foot.  It seems to cope very well, the only time one really notices the absence is when it is on the birdfeeder as the affected leg dangles down while it grips on with the other.  Robins are such companions when working in the garden, appearing as soon as one turns some soil or even when mowing the grass.

The large group of drake Mallard frequently seen sleeping or feeding in the garden and the absence of the females is a sure sign that nesting is underway.  No ducklings thus far.  One nest situated out in the reeds in the lake has been predated, the eggs all dispersed and eaten.  The nests are vulnerable when the duck is away and this nest was really quite exposed, albeit with water all around it.

The pair of swans were performing “natures calling” in the millpond on the 9th April.  It is a rather beautiful event to witness as they conduct a mirrored “ballet” with their necks, so very graceful.

We are enjoying the first rhubarb of the season.  It grows with such abundance and speed.  It is positioned in the sheltered vegetable garden and is not forced. 

Beneath the walnut tree we have made a spring border.  The erythroniums have spread and are now in flower along with primroses, pulmonaria and brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ to name a few.  This border needs weeding as there is ground elder and the sticky goosegrass, it has many names, making an appearance. 

We are yet to see a hedgehog, but wait in hope, and have created many habitats for them around the garden.  At the weekend we were exploring the Glasgow Botanic Gardens and got very excited when we spotted a hedgehog dropping on a path!   The friend we were visiting looked somewhat disconcerted by our enthusiasm for our discovery!   Unlike the wonderful dawn chorus we enjoy every morning here, Glasgow appeared to be rather devoid of obvious birdlife, save for magpies, that seemed to occupy every open patch of green.  To return to the Stour valley with all its natural variety is a source of infinite joy to us.  SB

Confluent: River of Words

Our blog post today comes from Stuart Bowditch, sound recordist, who recently launched his project Confluent: River of Words. Read about his project and text installations here and be sure to listen to his podcast.

Confluent: River of Words

Text installation at the Granary Tearoom

I am a sound recordist, artist and musician and my main interests gravitate towards people and place. Through working on socially engaged project The River Runs Through Us with painter Ruth Philo in 2017, I grew to love the Stour Valley and recently moved to Sudbury to immerse myself in the area and hopefully work on some more projects exploring its long and rich history and beautiful landscape.

This area of outstanding natural beauty does however need a lot of management and care and there are a lot of people, organisations and resources that are dedicated to keeping the valley and surrounding areas a place that we can all enjoy. In the spring of 2018, The River Stour Trust’s 50th anniversary, I was lucky enough to secure funding from Dedham Vale AONB’s Sustainable Development Fund for a new project Confluent: River of Words, to record, document and share the voices of those people whose hard work helps to maintain, conserve and preserve this unique landscape, for us and future generations, but also for the myriad of flora and fauna that share it with us.

I met with nearly thirty people, each with their own unique perspective on the area and working in a specific area or patch of the valley. I have included a list below of everyone who I spoke to and am grateful to them all for their generosity, wisdom and time.

The conversations have been edited in to a series of podcasts on the topics of Partners and Collaboration, Natural Beauty, Volunteers and Habitat. Whilst listening back to the hours of footage I collected some of the phrases and statements that contributors had made, a list of trees and all of the dragon and damsel flies that can be spotted at Foxearth Meadows, and turned them in to three text installations that can be found on two of the River Stour Trust boats ‘Rosette’ and ‘Edwardian Lady’, and also in the Granary Tea Room in Sudbury. The text installations will be visible until the end of the summer season and the podcasts are online now at

Stuart Bowditch

Contributors: Robert Erith, Robert Baker,Tony Platt, Lesley Ford-Platt , Catherine Smith, Simon Amstutz, Emma Black, Martin Gosling, Brenda Gosling, Sally Bartrum, Nigel Chapman, Dave Dignum, Cat Burrows, Arthur Studd, Mark Prina, Will Akast, Ben Norrington, Adrian Walters

AONB Volunteers: William Ford, Bob Smith, Lorna McGain, Howard Leader, Will Eden, Peter McGain, David Dale, Ian Thompson, Steve Pritchard, Deena Harding

RST Volunteers: Jim Lunn, Paul Roberts,

Text contribution:Susannah Robirosa

Into the Wild and Watery Heart of Things

Matt Gaw explains how the Stour seduced him, inspiring his acquatic adventures through the rivers of Britain.

This is just a wet run, a jaunt to celebrate the building of the canoe, but I’m already lost to the water: the way she holds us, the gentle current squeezing us downstream like muscles inside the throat of some giant snake. The river here is wide and soft, bobbled and furred with a yellow fuzz of catkins blown from groups of willow that lower their tresses to the water like women washing their hair. We are moving slowly, each paddle stroke sending up tiny green whirlpools that dance and wink in the summer evening’s light. Behind us we leave a wobbling trail of water, folding in on itself and disappearing with just the smallest of bow waves that shiver to the muddy bank.

The pair of us – my friend James Treadaway and I – set out just under an hour ago from Sudbury Water Meadows, humping the Canadian canoe past the last of the picnickers and the first of the cider drinkers. We heaved her into position and slid her nose-first into the water, wincing at the sound of her wooden hull scraping along the platform and sighing with relief when she didn’t sink to the river’s silty bottom. It was James who built this canoe. A suburban Noah, he beavered away in his garden while his bemused neighbours peered over the fence, offering encouragement and the odd glass of orange squash. Like me, he has little experience of being on the water, but said he felt compelled to make a boat; spending months bending, shaping and gluing wood, before painting the canoe’s handsome curves and broad bottom a joyous nautical red – the colour of Mae West’s lips.

The canoe is high in the water and reassuringly stable, but it took until the frothing flow of Cornard Weir for us to learn how to keep her steady, our rookie strokes pulling and pushing the canoe’s nose from bank to bank like a swinging compass needle. Once, twice, three times we ploughed at speed into the side or plunged through thrashing branches and into reeds, emerging sheepish and covered with downy seeds and a boatload of surprised insects. The rhythm is easy now, the lifting and the pulling of the paddles unthinking and unhurried, minds and boat adrift.

In front of me James gestures with his hand. He doesn’t need to say anything. Both of us have grown up near this river. Played on its banks, shinned up its trees and cooled off in its waters, but this is the first time we have actually stepped off the land and followed it; have felt its pull; its relentless crawl to the sea. In some ways it’s a strange feeling. I had it as soon as we pushed off, not so much an out-of-body experience as an out-of-land experience. Yet that’s not right either, because I’ve never felt so utterly consumed and engaged with a landscape. I feel like I have been ushered into a world that until now has somehow been hidden. It is as if the river is a vein beneath the skin of the land and has the power to take us into the wild and watery heart of things.

Matt will be talking about his new book The Pull of the River at the Quay Theatre, Sudbury on Thursday 18 April 7.30 pm, tickets £10, book here

End of WW1 and the Stour Estuary

This blog post looks at an historic event that took place in the Stour Estuary at the end of World War One, and also a commemoration of the Kindertransport journeys made by children in World War Two.

In November 2018 over 168 German U-Boats and support vessels were escorted along the River Stour by British ships. To commemorate the mass surrender of Germany’s submarines on the Essex coast at the end of World War One, a model U-boat made of willow has been created and now sits on Dovercourt Beach.

To read about this chapter in the history of the Stour Estuary click here.

A video telling the story can be seen here

Story courtesy of BBC News and Harwich Haven Surrender and Sanctuary U-boats in Harwich

A Thousand Kisses: The weekend of 1st/2nd December marks the 80th anniversary of the arrival of the first Kindertransport in Harwich in 1938. Between December 1938 and May 1940 almost 10,000 unaccompanied mostly Jewish children were brought to Britain from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland in what became known as the Kindertransports.

An exhibition telling the story of the Kindertransports through the experiences of eight children will be on display at the Harwich International Terminal (adjacent to the berths where the children’s boats docked) from 24 November, and then at the Harwich Mayflower Heritage Centre from 1st to 7th December.

To find out more information about events click here

Poems of the River Stour

This blog post features two poems written by Linda Bevan and Jo Porth, both members of the Sturmer and District WI. Jo Porth is Secretary to the Sturmer Village Hall Charity.  Their committee has been organising some events to celebrate the River Stour Festival in Sturmer, including a fun run, showing the film The River Runs through us and a photo competition. Whilst Jo’s poem portrays the beauty of the Stour, Linda’s poem shows us another dimension of the river, when it is in flood. 

We will feature some more poems from members of the Sturmer and District WI in coming weeks.


Flood in Sturmer by Linda Bevan

Woken up in the morning

S’posed to be an early warning

Open the door

Look at the floor

Water lapping – just a few feet

Cars making a tidal wave through The Street


Run to the back

Peer into the dark

Water lapping – just a few feet

Back and front soon will meet!


On the email

On the phone

Write to the Councillor

Have a moan


Then anxiously waiting to see how high –

Phew by noon it’s receding

Highways finally answers our pleading

Clears that gully but it’s too late – our neighbours cars have met their end

There’s no chance they’ll ever mend


Next morning

Review the damage

Mud on the drive

Garage swimming


But every cloud has a silver lining they say

At least now I can throw all that junk away!



Across Broad Meadow by Jo Porth 

Across Broad Meadow the River Stour,

A cottage built with Tudor power,

For fifty years has been our home,

Where ancient man and Romans roam,

The river running through the Mere,

Now home to heron, fox and deer,

Badgers, otters all live here,

Tawny owls that call at night,

Barn owls with their ghostly flight,

Buzzards call, with their cat like sound,

Wigeon and mallard abound,

Daises and orchids can be found,

The River Stour where swans swim,

And in the summer swallows skim,

Across Broad Meadow the River Stour,

In Sturmer Mere our hidden bower

Nigel Chapman: Dedham Vale AONB and the River Stour Festival


I was delighted when Ruth Philo mooted the concept of the River Stour Festival. it seemed to me there has long been a need to link together in some way  the many attractions of the river Stour from its source in Cambridgeshire to the North Sea at Harwich. The Festival aims to do that and  also will integrate themes and ideas of its own. I am so pleased to be part of the Festival team.

Personally, I have enjoyed many aspects of the Vale all my life. From spring visits to Arger Fen to see the bluebells and to Lawford to walk the watercress beds in the fifties; enjoying the many pubs, most of them now gone, in the sixties and seventies and moving to the edge of the AONB in Boxted in the nineties and travelling from there to work at a small business unit in Manningtree for a short time too. So, I am delighted now to be able to do something to ensure this wonderful stretch of countryside will be enjoyed by everyone well into the future. I am proud to have been involved with the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Stour Valley Project for fifteen years, the last nine as chair of the Joint Advisory Committee (JAC).  I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked to explain what AONBs are and what does the Project organisation actually do. AONBs are part of a group of nationally protected landscapes that include National Parks and Heritage coasts. Our Project area is around 117 square miles. AONBs are designated to ensure that the natural beauty and special qualities of an area are conserved and enhanced for future generations.

Much of the eastern end of Dedham Vale AONB is associated with the celebrated artist John Constable and many of the views he painted are recognisable today. Further west the area is connected to the nationally recognised artist, Thomas Gainsborough.

The local authorities in the AONB have a statutory duty to produce and review a five-yearly management plan. This is drawn up by a partnership of organisations that have an interest in the area, including the local authorities, and the work is co-ordinated by the project team, who also do similar work in the adjacent Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB.

The JAC comprises elected members and officers from the seven local authorities that fund the Project; a none executive board if you like. We also receive funding from the national Government through Defra.

The vision as set out in our current Management Plan is, ‘The AONB and Project area is a distinctive landscape with agriculture and wildlife at its core that retains its natural beauty and special qualities, which is conserved and enhanced by a wide-ranging partnership. It is an area where residents feel a strong sense of belonging, visitors are welcomed to enjoy the countryside and the heritage is understood and appreciated by all’.

Although tourism is not a responsibility of the AONB Project team, we are well aware of the economic impact visitors have on the Stour Valley and that the prime attraction is the very things that we are there to conserve and enhance.

Our visitors come from around the world but we must equally recognise that the population of north Essex and south Suffolk will continue to increase over the next few years and many of these people will want to enjoy, exercise and relax in and around this area. I am encouraged by the number of families, who having moved to the area, have discovered the Stour valley and enthuse to me about all the area has to offer and are as keen, as I am in a ‘Natural ‘ Health Service! I frequently quote Octavia Hill, the 19th century social reformer and one of the founders of the National Trust, who put it so vividly when she wrote, ‘the need for quiet, the need of air and, I believe, the sight of sky and things growing, seem human needs, common to all.’ 

Further information on our work at the AONB can be found on our website