We met Adam Gretton on a mini bus (as you do) whilst travelling to the Dedham Vale Vineyard as part of the Dedham Vale AONB AGM earlier in the year. We chatted about the project and he was telling us how is is a keen birder (and member of Suffolk Ornithology Group http://www.sogonline.org.uk/) and that we would be welcome to come and visit him for a walk around his patch at Cosford Hall, and to also take a closer look at the River Brett, a tributary of the Stour that we haven't spent much time on. It took a while to organise, but eventually we drove over to meet him on a rainy afternoon in early September.
After the rain had subsided during a cup of tea in the kitchen of lovely old Cosford Hall, a building which belonged to his grandmother, we set off on a stroll around the grounds which border the river and take in a variety of terrains. Adam showed us the old water course, which is still the parish boundary, the route the main river used to take before a canal cut was put in for Kersey Mill, which milled flour until the 1950's. He grows cricket bat willow trees here for Wright's as it has the perfect conditions for them. It takes 17 to 18 years for them to get to the right size before they are harvested, and more are planted in their place. There is a steep bank here and after crossing a bridge made with old railway sleepers we clambered up to the top, admiring many trees, some blown over in the great storm of 1987, on the way up. All of his fields have interesting names: Brass Button, Marsh Field, Noll's Yard, Home Meadow, and the fields beyond the bank used to be arable until around 30 years ago they were 'set-aside' and are now managed through the Higher Level Stewardship scheme. Adam's family have just let these fields naturally develop over the years and slowly plants and shrubs have gained a foothold to transform the area. Rabbits and roe deer graze the plants in one field which is evidenced by its openness and short coverage, but nothing grazes in the next field which is much more taken over by thick masses of plants.
Over the years things change and there are a few species of bird that Adam doesn't see any more, such as lesser spotted woodpecker and willow tits but these have been replaced by sightings of buzzards and little egrets. There are a lot more things that he has seen recently such as the following: bee orchids, wild hops, small teasel, dodder, common hounds tongue, spindle, black poplar, rabbits, muntjac and roe deer, hares, bullfinch, long tail tit and blue tit. As we headed back towards the hall, we saw planted a lot of wild cherry trees but as they developed they noticed that some of the trees were different, and actually turned out to be edible black cherries, sourced during a lean year from Wilkin & Sons in Tiptree. There are also some Ash trees that seem resistant to the ash dieback that is currently affecting the area and a few young elm trees which is encouraging.
All in all it was a lovely stroll with someone who was very connected to and passionate about his landscape and an important addition to our project in an area we hadn't spent any time in.