Clare Castle Country Park consists of 36 acres of semi-natural woodland, open grassland, hedgerows and wetland. Fishponds were dug in the medieval period to supply the castle’s needs; five of these were still present on the map of 1847.
The railway of 1865 necessitated the removal of some of the earthworks and the draining and filling in of some of the ponds. Parts of the land were leased for commercial agriculture, including cattle-grazing, duck rearing and water-cress growing.
Elms on the motte and Lady’s Walk were cropped for firewood. Cricket bat willows were planted in the 1940s. After the railway left, the ponds were recreated in part to enable the opening of the park in 1971; further de-silting took place in 1983. The ponds contribute extensively to the wetland habitat.
Significant elements of the flora are:
- Elm is still found in the Park in various stages of growth. It has regrown from suckers from trees felled as a result of the attacks of Dutch Elm Disease.
- Alexander (smyrnium olusatrum right) a rather rare plant, introduced to the UK by the Romans, it is normally associated with coastal areas; known as the parsley of Alexandria in medieval times, it was common in monastery gardens and used like celery or lovage in cooking
- The railway platforms support a variety of lime-loving plants growing in the old mortar. These include harts tongue fern, maidenhair-spleenwort, ivy-leaved toadsflax and yellow corydalis
- Berry-bearing bushes are common throughout the park, providing food for birds: blackthorn (sloe), hawthorn, spindle, elder, dogwood, ivy; other fruiting trees are also present: apple, bullace, hazel
- Walnut (right) is found all over the Clare district: a particularly good specimen is now established in the middle of the cattle loading platform
- Specimen trees of various kinds are found scattered in the park: magnolia, Swedish whitebeam
- Water figwort, water forget-me-not, water mint and great marsh sedge are found in the boggier margins
- The Railway Walk provides open spaces for many wild grasses and flowering plants, particularly the flowered knapweeds, with the rare parasitic knapweed broomrape sometimes showing its impressive scaly brown flowering spike in summer.
Trees in and around The Park
The commonest trees are ash, hazel, oak, elder, willow, sycamore and alder. To some extent, the woodland areas require thinning out to allow more light to penetrate to the ground level, where flowers such as bluebell have lost ground. The presence of alder along the water edges is significant for the water life: the leaves readily break up in water and release nutrients for invertebrates such as caddis fly and water beetles.
In 2017 a detailed survey of the fauna and flora was carried out by Suffolk Wildlife Trust. This records both residents and migrants, as well as the season-specific habits of particular species.