There has been quite a bit happening on the reserves recently. It’s a busy time of year, with a strong changeover in our activities. Spring and Summer see monitoring and reserve infrastructure taking precedent, followed by grassland management near the end of the summer. Autumn and winter see us stepping up a gear and munching through our wooded areas and scrub – as mentioned in past blog posts.
It also means the removal of our cattle. Most of our sites lay very wet over the winter so to stop any lasting damage occurring to the ground and soil structure, all cows need to be taken to a comfortable dry site for winter. So, October onward we see a steady reduction of numbers until all are off around mid November.
Hookheath Meadows was our first site to see cattle removed. This requires a TB test to be undertaken so we had to get all five into the holding pen, including the lovely Curtis, our British White Bull. This was then followed up three days later with another test to see if they were clear. Thankfully they were.
We have recently acquired a new felling licence for the site so we have started work thinning some of the woodland to open up the meadows. We need to do this before it gets too wet to access it, as being what is ultimately a flood plain or wet pasture, it gets a little soggy underfoot.
We started on Tuesday, thinning out some woodland areas and coppicing the older hazel stools. This revitalizes the tree, and what looks like a destructive act actually benefits the tree, with coppiced stools lasting much longer than un-managed individuals. It also grows back and produces a thick mid-layer throughout the woodland, favoured by species like Marsh Tit. This allows connectivity to be maintained through the meadows, joining the neighbouring areas of woodland. We also have to consider the canopy level, with important butterfly species and bird species predominately existing in this layer. Therefore connectivity is important, allowing these species to maintain a diverse and extended population.
Whilst working we found a huge veteran willow tree, not something that you see too often as they tend to collapse at an older age. There was also a lot of fungi around, it seems to be a good autumn for it.