As a member of Rushmere St Andrew Parish Council, I took part in the Council's annual walkabout through the Sandlings and Mill Stream Nature Reserves. Although I have lived in the northern part of the Parish for nearly 30 years, I have to confess that this was the first time I had visited these open spaces. I was surprised to find that we have so much lovely and easily accessible countryside on our doorstep and my walk-about provided me with a very interesting and enjoyable experience.
The walk was accompanied by James Baker, manager of Greenways Countryside Project, the group of volunteers who do such a magnificent job in carrying out much of the improvement and maintenance work and John Davies, Suffolk Coastal Countryside Manager. As we walked, we discussed the progress made and identified any items which required attention
We began our walk by crossing the Sandlings area which we accessed via an entrance near the Water Tower, and, despite the rather dull weather, we were able to enjoy the open view across this part of the reserve. We then followed the path through a wooded area, where James highlighted the current situation regarding the trees, undergrowth and wildlife. He also showed us some of the most recent work carried out by the Greenways group, for example coppicing and the creation of woven ‘walls' made from branches removed during the coppicing process. These walls are carefully placed to protect the trees, other vegetation and wildlife from too much human incursion. I learnt that oak trees are very proactive in looking after their own interests, producing broad canopies which damage or even kill off other plants and trees by depriving them of light. It is therefore sometimes necessary to cut back or even remove some of the oaks to give others things the chance to flourish. Greenways also works to identify and remove any trees which are not native to this type of landscape. I was also told that many birds make their homes in our woodland - apparently almost 70 different species have been spotted in the reserves.
Continuing along the well established path, we then entered Church Field, an area of open grassland which was originally part of the glebe land belonging to a local church which has now completely disappeared. I was told that in early summer, this area is full of wild flowers and butterflies. I will certainly make sure I go back in a few months' time to see this for myself. You will be pleased to know that the Parish Council has plans to place a new information board in this field so that visitors can identify all the different fauna and flora.
The final section of our walk took us along the Mill Stream path which contains several fine examples of the oak trees which were planted to mark the original Rushmere St Andrew boundary. We visited the two ponds and I made sure that I was well informed about these by reading the very interesting and well illustrated information boards located nearby. I learnt that, in addition to the more common frogs and toads, lucky visitors might be able to spot water voles, which are currently a very endangered species. We also passed two of Anglian Water's underground reservoirs and the site of the old firing butts which I discovered had been used for military training from the early 1800s up to the 1920's.
Our walk though the nature reserves finished at the junction with Foxhall Road, but I understand that those who enjoy longer walks can continue on to Rushmere Common or follow the route of the Jubilee Walk. If like me, you are not familiar with our nature reserves, I do urge you to pay them a visit. They are ideal for an off-road family walk or a bit of exercise with the dog, although these must be kept on the leash at all times in the interest of the wildlife. I will certainly be back and who knows? - I may even be bold enough to try the longer version next time!