Monday, 4 October 2010

My new life starts here...

So, at the end of September I started a degree course in Conservation and Environment [Biological Surveying and Habitat Management] at Writtle College, just outside Chelmsford in Essex.  We've had two weeks so far of induction to college life and the course modules.  Part of my course is practical experience and on Thursday last week we went out to Hoppit's Meadow to cut it back.  We met at the Countryside Skills Centre and walked the 30 minutes to the meadow.  We used a number of tools  to cut the meadow by hand:
  • long-handled slasher
  • grass hook
  • hay/pitch fork
  • rake
When we cut the meadow we separated out the undesirable plants such as the nettles and thistles, these would be added to the grass pile to rot down.  Desirable species were piled up ready to be strewn later.

The reason for removing the cut plants from the meadow is to prevent them breaking down and adding nutrients to the soil int he meadow.  Also, we removed the thistle and nettle to try to reduce the number growing in the meadow to allow more chance for the other meadow-specific species.  The desirable meadow flowers prefer fewer nutrients in the soil.

Once we had finished cutting down the plants we scattered them over the cut area - a process known as "strewing".  This process allows the seeds from the plant to gradually return to the soil and start new plants, thus spreading the desired meadow flowers around.  When strewing care should be taken to spread the plants thinly as to dump them thickly would allow them to rot down and provide extra nutrients for the soil.

The types of plant found in this meadow included:
  • Hedge Woundwort [Stachys sylvatica]
  • Yarrow [Achillea millefolium]
  • Small Scabious [Scabiosa columbaria]
  • Common Knapweed [Centauria nigra]
  • Red Campion [Silene dioica]
On Saturday I volunteered at Langdon and the task for the day was to cut back the strip of meadow runnning alongside the lake.  The method of doing this was somewhat different  to Thursday's work.

I used a brushcutter to cut it all down.  Using machinery for something like this certainly speeds up the process and takes less manpower.  However, since it was just me it was more work!

Once it had all been cut all the cuttings were raked and stowed under the hedgerows where they could happily rot down.  We did not strew any of the meadow plants around the cut area.  Carrying out the same task in the same week but by different methods has allowed me to appreciate how labour-intensive it can be  but also to see how machinery has assisted the process.