Culm grassland does not occur naturally. It is the result of man cultivating the soil in a particular fashion. If left to nature, culm grassland would gradually revert to scrub and woodland. Hence, it has to be managed.

Quoditch Moor Nature Reserve needs careful management to maintain its level of culm grassland and to preserve the wild flowers that still exist. To stop the scrub encroaching cutting back is necessary. One useful tool is a brush cutter. It's like a large strimmer but has a selection of blades, so that it can be used for trimming grass, cutting back brambles as Dominic is doing in the picture, or even cutting through small trees.

 Brush cutting the brambles

Over the years, some parts have been taken over by scrub growth, much of it willow, hazel, birch and beech. These trees will have to be removed to allow the light back onto the ground and enable the grasses and other small plants to survive. This year, where the scrub willow has been trimmed back, orchids have appeared in the cleared areas.

Much as the grass is important it has to be kept comparatively short to stop it swamping the wild flowers. The best way to do this is to graze it and the best grazers are cattle. Sheep can "poach" the land (eating the grass too short and removing all other growth as well). Cattle are more selective and, as long as they are kept on the land for a limited period of time and there are not too many of them, they can help to maintain the wildflower life and do good to the soil. Even their hooves are beneficial, because they tread in the seeds of the flowers and encourage new growth.

So, too litle grazing and the grass and scrub take over, too much grazing and the plants disappear as well.

In the late 1990s, Mr Jones, a near neighbour, lent us ten cows to graze the land.

 Grazing cattle

They were all "dry" cows, not giving any milk at the moment and are very gentle, whereas bullocks can spend a lot of their time trying to break out. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) specify limits on the number of cattle grazing any area. It's all a matter of balance.

However the foot and mouth crisis made the availability of cattle scarcer, so in 2004 we were able to obtain some Exmoor Cross ponies from the People for Ponies group. They tend to be more selective than the cattle and will eat the grasses but leave the orchids. The only problem is that they leave the buttercups as well!

The reeds in the main field need managing as well and these will be trimmed over a three year period. Not all reeds should be trimmed at any one time, because they have different creatures living on them from the grasses and these must be allowed to stay as well. A good way of trimming reeds is to use a flail cutter which chops everything up into small pieces and hence doesn't smother the plants underneath. At the moment we can't afford a flail cutter so we will have to resort to our faithful brush cutter "Basil". 

How to deal with a dangerous tree
How do we deal with our thistles?
What is Coppicing?

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This page was last updated on 5th Jan 2006

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