Sudbury mayor eats grass in centuries-old 'turning on' ceremony

The procession of dignitaries, including the Mayor, Freemen and charity trustees, heads to the Great Common

The procession of dignitaries, including the Mayor, Freemen and charity trustees, heads to the Great Common - Credit: ROSS BENTLEY

Centuries of tradition were played out when a market town held a ‘turning on’ ceremony where the mayor inspects the pastures at the beginning of the new grazing season. 

The ancient ritual takes place every five years and involves the Mayor of Sudbury – currently Councillor Sue Ayres – visiting the town’s Great Common to determine whether the grass is fit for grazing by cows and horses. 

As part of the ceremony, Mrs Ayres tasted the grass to check it is okay for livestock. In some years, the grass is considered either too wet or the grass growth not forward enough to sustain the animals. 

Sudbury Mayor Sue Ayres tastes the grass and declares it is in 'good order'

Sudbury Mayor Sue Ayres tastes the grass and declares it is in 'good order' - Credit: ROSS BENTLEY

The colourful event includes mace bearers, freemen, charity trustees and voluntary rangers who follow the mayor onto the meadows in procession.  

Sudbury Commons Land Charity (SCLC), which manages land around the town, helped to organise the ceremony which took place on Wednesday morning. 

Peter Fulcher, chair of SCLC trustees, said: “This is a wonderful ceremony that shows Sudbury’s close connection with these ancient grazing meadows and the importance of the cattle in maintaining this magnificent place. 

“The turning on of the cattle signifies the start of the grazing season and of the better weather. Over the weeks that follow more cattle will be turned onto the pastures to provide an iconic scene that has carried on for more than 800 years.”

The procession of dignitaries heads to Great Common

The procession of dignitaries heads to Great Common - Credit: ROSS BENTLEY

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Records show that livestock have been grazed on pasture lands either side of the River Stour as it flows through Sudbury since the 13th Century. 

These lands have never been ploughed and the grazing of cattle is the prime means of management. This in turn has created an increasingly rare ecosystem for native plants and wildlife. 

Grazing is therefore fundamental to the wellbeing of the land and, with the meadows having received designation as a Local Nature Reserve and a County Wildlife Site, a key part of the SCLC’s work is to ensure the natural richness of the area is maintained. 

The cattle are released on to the Great Common

The cattle are released on to the Great Common - Credit: ROSS BENTLEY