Managing conservation land often involves working in difficult or remote locations, or on terrain that is uneven, wet and inaccessible. This can make undertaking land management very challenging- from finding machinery that is able and suitable to work on sensitive land, through to finding contractors willing to work in such difficult conditions. Much of the readily available agricultural equipment that is used by contractors is not suited to working in semi-natural habitat; for example, large tractors being too heavy and having high a ground pressure to work on wetlands, and mowers that are too easily damaged by terrain as uneven as many of our nature reserves.
The wet summer of 2012 has made managing our nature reserves even more of a challenge than normal. Jobs such as the mowing and re-fencing of some of our wetland sites, normally reserved for the summer months when the ground is driest and machinery able to access them with least difficulty and least risk of damage to the ground, have been made almost impossible by the persistently high water table.
In Carmarthenshire this summer, two nature reserves were due to be re-fenced under the programme of works of the WREN-funded Gwendraeth Grasslands project. Ffrwd Farm Mire and Rhos Cefn Bryn are both made up of wetland habitats including reedbed and rhos pasture (marshy grassland), and have not dried out at all this year, being wet underfoot even at time of writing. The ongoing poor ground conditions were becoming an increasing concern, as the re-fencing is a real priority if the reserves are to continue to be grazed, with the old fences ceasing to be stock-proof.
Having the right equipment can make all the difference. The re-fencing of Rhos Cefn Bryn has already been completed, and the contractors there, AJ Butler Contracting, had to use tracked machinery rather than standard tractor-operated equipment to reduce damage to the wet ground whilst installing the fence. The tracks significantly reduce the ground pressure, simply flattening the vegetation temporarily rather than rutting the ground.
The smart new fence line has now been installed and will allow us to continue with the essential cattle grazing that maintains the rhos pasture habitat that is so essential for the resident population of marsh fritillary butterflies. We also brought the fence in the southern field out into the grassland by a few metres to allow for slight expansion of the tiny woodland copse, for the benefit of the dormice which are also present on the site.
The wet summer has caused many altered plans and has certainly created some unique challenges for landowners- but where there’s a will, there’s a way, and the right tools for the job make all the difference.