The Stour Estuary
The Stour estuary forms the southern border of the village.
The name Stour comes from the Celtic word sturr meaning "strong". The River Stour was one of the first improved rivers or canals in England. Parliament passed an act in 1705 to make the river easier to use from the town of Manningtree to Sudbury. Horses pulled boats called lighters carrying cargo of pitch, tar, soap, vinegar, resin, glass, butter and apples.
The estuary is a 'Ramsar Site', a Special Protection Area (SPA) and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). These are national and international designations for nature and natural beauty.
Every year - for eleven months of each year - there are significant numbers of waders, ducks and geese down on the estuary. It is for these thousands of birds that the Stour Estuary is recognised as a Ramsar site (an international designation) and an SPA (European status).
SSSI status is a recognition of national importance – these are the ‘blue chip’ most important sites in the UK.
Every winter hundreds of volunteer bird surveyors conduct counts on over 2000 sites cross the country. Consistently, the Stour estuary is in the top 25.
The waterbirds that mass on the estuary are birds that have bred across the top of the northern hemisphere from Canada and Greenland, northern Europe and as far east as Siberia. We may think our winters are cold, but they are infinitely preferable to the freezing, white-out conditions of an arctic winter.
Where and when to watch
From July, when the first black-tailed godwits return to the estuary from their Icelandic home, to late-May when the last dark-belled brent geese head off to their native Siberia, a visit down to Stutton Mill, (particularly at high tide), is worth the walk. Here, when the mudflats are covered in water, waders, ducks, geese, cormorants and gulls sit out the high tide on a small patch of saltmarsh. A safe roost is critical for these birds. Having eaten their fill from out on the mudflats, they need to conserve their energy here whilst they await the next opportunity to feed.
The numbers of birds are at their peak here between November and February, when the winter populations are in residence. Spring and autumn are just as important though, as thousands of birds are stopping over on their way north (in the spring) and south (in the autumn). Places like the Stour estuary act like service stations at these times of year. To put this in to perspective, imagine taking a long motorway journey and not being able to stop safely, or find that you can stop but you can’t fill your car up with petrol.
A walk east from Stutton Mill to the sandy point at Stutton Ness offers delightful, often elevated vistas across to Essex and out to the mouth of the estuary towards Felixstowe. When the tide uncovers the mud, birds move off the high tide roosts to feed. It may look grey and unappealing, but the mud is full of life – a myriad of worms and shellfish and other invertebrates sustains the massed ranks of birds.