Outlook 17
News and Views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
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Nature Notes
Nature Notes Water meadows Traditionally, the water meadows were managed by ‘drowners’ – men, who, in early spring would flood the surrounding grassland to ensure earlier and better grazing for cattle. Now, such areas – level grassland fringed with streams – are all referred to as water meadows. ‘Drowning’ is a lost art. This grassland habitat, offering lush pasture, also provides a rich list of flowers: Sorrel, Buttercup, Ragged Robin and Marsh Orchid grow amongst grass. Cuckoo Flower, Lady’s Smock – is one of many flowers associated with Mary, Mother of God. At the waterside, Marsh Marigold (Kingcups or Yellowblobs), Brook Lime, Water Parsnip and Watercress can be found. Figwort with its square stem, and Gypsywort, a basis for pot pourri, are commonplace. The Bard’s ‘Tall Purples’ or Loosestrife, and Marsh Mallow for the sweet-toothed or teething infant, grow tall. An added bonus is that in chewing to ease sore gums, the root liquid eases stomach pains. In John Millais’ splendid painting of Ophelia, the doomed heroine, having fallen from a Willow, drifts to a watery death in a river of Water Crowfoot. The Willows in the water meadows close to Kyson Point are veterans of many storms, but are still alive, nourishing numerous insects and invertebrates, which are food for nesting birds. In high summer the water meadows are alive with bird and insect activities. Some streams and ditches support fish: replete trout lazily fan the water under a feast of insects above their heads. Swallows breast- skim the surface, catching their meal in flight. And ‘Ratty’, the misnamed Water Vole, beloved by Kenneth Grahame, eats his vegetarian supper on a convenient clump of roots (pictured). Nowadays he shares the water with alien Mink, and the recently re-introduced Otter. That other foreign denizen of wet places, the Coypu, has long been ousted and trapped out of existence. Grass snakes might be seen, quietly slaking their thirst at the water’s edge, and disturbed, will surface-swim to safety. And in the grass, Lapwing, Mallard, Coot and other birds seek both home and provender. The Cuckoo calls from a dead branch and the busy Tree Creeper uses the same tree to find its food. Water meadows are best summer-visited, the sun high in the sky and the streams cool to the touch. ‘Oh, is the water sweet and cool,/Gentle and brown, above the pool?’ (Rupert Brooke: The Old Vicarage, Grantchester). All this the grazing cattle observe and hear, whilst standing and chewing, and with much tail flicking. Michael Stagg