Friday, 3 October 2014

Let the Cutting Commence!

Two weeks ago the rumble of tractors returned to the Sedge Fen as we started the cutting for this year. This is very exciting as this is the main management technique of the old fen, continuing a tradition that has been going since the 15th Century. We now have a very different method, using mostly tractors to cut, turn and clear the litter.

The fen is split into different areas, called either droves or compartments. The droves are the paths around the site and get cut annually, which is where we have started the cutting this year. The compartments are all the bits in between the droves. These are further divided into strips which we have colour coded. If your walking around the fen and see fence posts with red, green or yellow tops, they are marking the different strips. These strips are cut on a three year rotation, which allows the sedge to grow and develop, whilst stopping any small trees growing developing into scrub. In the past it was also found that a three year rotation was better for the sedge being used for thatching, any longer and the sedge was too brittle when dried, any shorter and there were negative ecological effects.

The little tractor with the disk mower attached
We clear the fen using a three tractor rotation. Firstly we send our little tractor with the disk mower which cuts the litter at the base and leaves it all lying flat. We then leave it on the ground for a couple of days to allow for seed dispersal. This also gives time for it to dry a little making the next step easier. Next we send out our oldest tractor, with the acrobat on the back. The acrobat is made up of four wheels that have lots of thin tines sticking out. As you pull them quickly across the ground they move the litter into rows. Finally we send out another tractor with a buck rake on the back to scoop up these rows and put them into piles located within the scrub line. These piles are great for insects and we need to get the cut litter off the ground to allow new seeds germinate and grow.

Drainer's as I arrived this morning
Drainers after I was finished cutting
At the moment we are focusing on the annual cut of the droves. These are cut more often than the compartments because we are trying to maintain a different flowering plant community. This is where we get the beautiful orchids earlier in the summer, and these flowering communities are one of the reasons we are designated a Special Area of Conservation.

In other news, Lois, Ruby and I have been at Ickworth for the past two days doing a Tree Health Surveying course. I am pleased to say we all passed, so can now help John do the surveys around the fen.

On Monday Lois and I went to Swaffham Prior School to install a very beautiful, but very heavy oak sign board in their outdoor area. To read more about it and see the finished article pop over to the Wicken and Anglesey Community Blog:

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