A warmish (weather wise) welcome from the West Sedgemoor, Greylake and Swell Wood reserves.
As we start the autumn season the tractors are in full use on a daily basis. September and October are probably our most busy times, ironically as it is the quietest time for birds, where we need to manage up a hundred fields across West Sedgemoor and Greylake. Fields are either topped or weed wiped, with some receiving both treatments.
Topping, which involves sticking a massive lawn mower on the back of a tractor, helps to encourage regrowth in the fields, and keeps aggressive species from taking over. The need to protect and further encourage bio diversity is essential to allow often rare plant species to flourish on wet grasslands. These fields then attract a wide variety of insects, spiders, butterflies and moths, which then attract birds to feast on them. Not that that is their main intention I assume. I have yet to read any literature about the suicidal tendencies about meadow browns or common blue butterflies.
The regrowth of the vegetation in the fields at this time of the year also provides food for the herds of cattle that are managed on the moor. The season can be busy for the entire reserve team, as herds sometimes need help being moved, and some cattle like to take regular baths in the wet ditches around the fields, which require some encouragement getting back onto dry land.
Many hours of strimming, and brush cutting have been done by residential volunteers and day volunteers. During the summer months the paths at Greylake seem to become overgrowth within hours of cutting back the vegetation. While the reeds provide a picturesque tunnel through the reserve, a little bit of wind or rain results in them hanging over the paths in a pitiful state of near collapse. That’s one good thing about the onset of cooler weather, less plant growth to cut. While I’m on the subject, another good thing is the rapid decrease in horse fly bites. Lovely as it is to have healthy insect populations, the constant scratching of exposed legs and arms can be something of a distraction. They can even bite through shirts. So small, yet so vicious.
The view from the main hide at Greylake has been improved, and should provide even better chances to see birds and other wildlife. A particular favourite recently has been the sight of young water rail feeding in and around the reeds. Regular sightings of kingfishers, and bittern have also been highlights throughout the summer.
Large typha plants, often called bulrush, which grow at the waters edge were pulled up by hand by a pair of brave, but slightly foolish, team members. By the end of the day, both were covered in so much mud that, despite wearing waders, they looked like they had had been fighting in a swamp pit all day. Not that I laughed, that would have been unprofessional.
Plenty to start to look forward to with the winter ducks due back over the next two months or so, plus lots of apples and blackberries to gorge upon in the meantime.
James (Residential volunteer - West Sedgemoor)
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