By Joe Crossland

You’ll have seen a few changes around the reserve in the last few months, some of the more noticeable additions being our sand martin bank and the floating rafts, which were detailed in an earlier blog. But there are also things happening that you may not have noticed at first glance… 

Family Volunteers managing the meadow (Joe Crossland)

Wildflower meadow management

Wildflowers provide an important source of nectar and pollen for pollinators and so we would like to create a large expanse of wildflower meadow on the reserve. But replacing grass with wildflowers can be a tricky task, as grass can pose a stubborn obstacle for wildflowers to establish themselves, so we need to give nature a bit of a helping hand.

Firstly, between the visitor centre and the water channel, we have done a ‘high cut’ of the vegetation to remove the seed heads – this not only stops the grass seeds from spreading and more grass growing, but it also removes nutrients from returning to the soil – wildflowers prefer soil with a low nutrient content, so they are not outcompeted by the grass. This clearing of vegetation also creates room for wildflowers to emerge.

The cut grass which is removed from the meadow is not wasted, with small piles created elsewhere and left to rot down, and so providing a habitat for creepy crawlies.

Clover which has gone to seedAn additional element of meadow management can be 'green haying' - our Family Volunteers have been busy collecting seeds from clover and yellow rattle donor areas to spread over freshly cut receptor sites to help them spread. Key to meadow creation is the presence of yellow rattle, which is a hemi-parasite of grass. By reducing the vigour of grass, yellow rattle allows other species to get a foothold. For this reason, yellow rattle is often called the ‘meadow maker’. We hope to see the beautiful results of this work next year.

Himalayan balsam control

Himalayan balsam is an invasive species that is increasingly common, as it spreads vigorously, often along waterways – the explosive seed pods firing their floating seeds into rivers and streams to be transported far and wide. The sweet, sickly smell of the flowers is incredibly attractive to pollinators, so much so that insects will often neglect our native plants and flowers – leading in turn to more Himalayan balsam and fewer of our native species.

For many years we have pulled Himalayan balsam by hand, and despite the shallow roots, it’s a labour-intensive job. Still, it’s surprising how much ground you can clear with an enthusiastic bunch of volunteers! While this has been effective to an extent, given the scale of the spread, it’s not enough for us to keep on top of the job. Recently, therefore, we’ve been trialling a different technique: cutting the shoots with a strimmer below the first leaf node. This is an effective method of controlling the spread and it’s obviously hugely beneficial for us in terms of saving time and people power. Himalayan Balsam (Joe Crossland)

Tips for identifying Himalayan balsam

The leaves are serrated with red edges. The stems are translucent, changing colour from green to pale to pink. The flowers are pink or whitish-pink, trumpet shaped and sweet-smelling. The shape of the flowers gives rise to alternative names for the plant such as policeman’s helmet or gnome’s hatstand. Larger plants have hollow stems.

We’ll keep you updated on progress with all our habitat management tasks throughout the year, and if you have any questions about the work we’re carrying out, please get in touch. Likewise, if you’re interested in joining our family volunteers and getting stuck into some practical conservation, please contact our Warden Dan or Site Manager Tabby.