We have recently been cutting a lot of reed at Farlington. It’s a particularly big job but one of some urgency. Reed beds are one of my favourite habitats. Supporting a range of very interesting bird species they are also excellent refuges for many mammal species such as water voles and harvest mice.
We are lucky enough to have an excellent reed bed at Farlington, bisecting the site along the stream. It supports a fantastic populations of bearded tits which belies it’s size. It has to be one of the best places around to see them. The reed we are cutting isn’t in the main section. It is actually in the Hay Field in the north east of the site. As the name suggests, it was was once (and the lower section still is) a hay meadow. Quite flower rich and excellent for invertebrates, it is an important part of the site.
Unfortunately over the years it has steadily become inundated with reed and this is because of several reasons. The main problem is that we believe that there is a leak in the sea wall, well actually two leaks. This means that there is far more water in this section of the reserve than ever before. It is great news for snipe who love wet grassland. The problem is it is also great for reed and over the years an established reed bed has developed on what was once a very productive hay meadow. We are now working with the Environment Agency to get the leaks sorted but that is only the start of the solution.
I wrestled with the idea of what to do with it for a while. I love reed beds and they have such value but at the end of the day it comes down to a simple scale. What does the reed bed support and what would the grassland support? The answer is that this particular bit of the reed bed supported some reed warblers (green listed) and one, maybe two reed bunting (amber listed) territories. The previous grassland supported a number of breeding lapwing (red listed), countless numbers of overwintering snipe (amber listed) and a great floral diversity. So in the end it has been a simple decision, the weight of the more endangered species out weigh the other. It is also worth bearing in mind that some of these species in the reed bed will just be displaced to other areas in the site or will carry on in the periphery of the the Hay Meadow, breeding in the remaining reed or scrub.
So the task of restoring this reed bed to grassland has started this winter. We first have to cut the reed so that it is not high enough for nesting birds in the spring and summer. It is hard work cutting reed and you have to burn the the cut reed in long piles. This is difficult as in the slightest wind the flames raise alarmingly. The fear is always with you that the whole reed bed could go up.
Once we have cleared the area we then have to go and re-cut in the spring and the summer. Hopefully this will suppress the reed and over time should revert back to grassland. Combined with some perimeter tree work, we will hopefully bring lapwing back to the hay meadow in the near future.