It is officially Autumn. The brisk mornings have brought in the time of year that is scrub bashing. This fills up so much of our time with our volunteers and is an extremely important part of what we do. No matter what, nature wants to move through its successional changes until forest is achieved. This is why we implement management strategies such as grazing, to mimic natural processes that hold the dreaded scrub at bay. Depending on what model you adhere to, before humans were around it is likely that much of northern Europe was high forest. However, with grazing pressure from large herbivores there would have likely been open areas of grassland and a fluid mosaic of scrub, especially if you consider the fact that Europe had species such as elephants to really break up the forest.
Nowadays we have to try and mimic these natural processes as closely as we can and in some instances micromanage to make the most out of our little islands of nature in a big landscape of urban development. With that in mind we have been working our way through a lot of scrub on a number of our sites to help improve the structure.
Fragmentation is a bad word in conservation. When looking at our landscape, fragmentation refers to the braking up of continuous habitat and stopping the flow of species through, especially those that can’t fly. It doesn’t,however, always have to be a bad word. On a local level, it can be a good thing. For instance at Farlington we have been working intensively in the area we call the bushes (imaginatively named for the large amount of scrub there in). Over several years of little management the small blocks of gorse, hawthorn and bramble have steadily merged into large, unbroken patches that cover much of the site. This has a negative effect, steadily reducing diversity, especially with the all important edge habitat or if you’re posh, an ecotone. This allows a multitude of species to co-exist as it provides several habitats in regards to structure, vegetation and food resources.
What we are trying to achieve in many of our reserves is a patchwork of scrub that mingles seamlessly with the woodland, grassland or whatever habitat we have, providing excellent nesting habitat for birds or sheltered perches and glades for butterflies. Unfortunately for us, this means spending a lot of time fighting bramble.