Well... it is, really. We’re a year into the Save Our Magnificent Meadows project now, and the difference is showing. Our four-legged work party has made great in-roads into the dense soft rush (Juncus effusus) that was all over Mosstown Marsh, and has reduced both its density and height. We’ve found the most effective management so far is to cut the stuff first with the topper and then let the ponies loose on it; they really get stuck into the regrowth!
Heather McCallum (Reserves Ecologist) in the rushes - blame the weather for her long-suffering expression! The difference between uncut-ungrazed and cut-and-grazed is very clear.
We’ve already put up 900m of fencing to control the grazing, with another 900m over the next two years. It does have to go a fair way out into the loch to keep the workforce in (see the photo below)...
...although we do know where they are. Tagging some of the ponies using GPS collars will give us a vast amount of data about where they have been (and where they haven’t) – one of our original collars sent data in via email, so we’ve had the chance to look at it – there were 675 plot points before the battery ran out and get a flavour of what we may see in the future (we’re looking to get around 604,500 points by the end of the project).
Wex the Konik models his GPS tag and collar
Different days/times, different colours - you can see where the ponies were only allowed into the south end of the area at the beginning of the survey.
Students from Aberdeen University are helping us with monitoring the grazing and its effects, and we’ve already had some local schools out to see what’s happening.
Using our quadcopter-mounted camera enables us to produce scale maps of the marsh, including the grazed ‘lawns’ open water and extent of the rushes remaining. It’s also helping with other aspects of reserve management, for example enabling us to solve the question of why the reedbed hasn’t grown as we thought it should, so we can take steps to remedy this. Now everybody wants one!
In terms of wildlife, we’ve had the first record of breeding snipe on Mosstown marsh, redshanks are prospecting it already this year, over 400 curlew were using the area last autumn. More work is needed to see how the plants we want to encourage are responding, but overall the signs are promising.
National Meadows Day is on 4 July this year – we’ll be celebrating! Put it in your diary and come and join us!
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654