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Bracken in the meadow

Posted: Wednesday 2nd August 2017 by LowerAireValley

Hollinhurst Meadow - Credit Fiona ShippHollinhurst Meadow - Credit Fiona Shipp

That time again. Well it’s here, the time of year we love the most - meadow cuts and hay raking. Last week we were at Hollinhurst Woods where the ridge and furrow meadow has to be carefully managed.

The bracken can spread vigorously and needs controlling to hinder it’s advance into the meadow, not just to uphold the variety of plant life, but also to maintain the ridges and furrows themselves as archaeological quirks in the landscape. Not far behind is the ever persistent birch and willow scrub, creeping back in from our attack with loppers in the winter, and the attractive stands of rosebay willow herb which we also have to fend back now and then.

There are a number of ways to manage bracken, and one of course is to use herbicide, but not without risking damage to other plants on the site, and this means we are down to brush cutters and raking up along with the associated underlying leaf litter. This raking is essential for efficient control otherwise the rotting bracken, if left will simply build up the ground surface preventing other vegetation from developing by turning the soil very acidic – which of course bracken prefers. Bracken can be bruised by simply striking it with sticks, not to sever the plant stem but to leave it keeled over while still attached to the root. This method along with mechanical rollers or brush cutters are effective but the whole process must be repeated twice in a summer season. If it is first bruised or brush cut say in June then it must repeated six weeks later in July or August, and this strategy eventually after 6 years weakens the plant’s rhizomes (creeping root stock).

Bracken has two rhizomes, one down around half a metre (up to a full metre if it can), providing storage for all the carbohydrates the plant needs, while a shallower system sends up all the new shoots along an underground pathway. Bracken can colonise fresh ground at a rate of over 1 metre per year, and some areas may be more rhizome than soil in old colonies, so you can appreciate why we must attempt to keep it under some form of management. The spores of the plant are carcinogenic and harmful to both animals and humans alike, however it is uncommon for bracken to produce these spores within the northerly latitudes where Britain resides.

It’s also not a bad idea to protect yourself with some decent clothing to avoid inviting in the pesky ticks that like to hang around on the plant. This is probably far from the minds of those in Korea when they eat the emerging fronds, known as fiddleheads, and in fact several species of bracken have been used as a food source by many cultures in the past up to the present.

Don't worry, here in the group we know the implications and danger from these operations and put into place all the correct procedures to reduce the health risks. However we are now going to be pretty much engaged on meadow cuts and this means lots of raking after the brush cutters. So that leaves us with the raking and if you’re up for some good exercise while helping to create favourable habitat for our pollinators, butterflies and especially our own personal recreation then come down and give us a hand, you may even get a slice of a certain volunteer’s wonderful cake but certainly you'll have a good laugh with a great group of people.

See you out there,

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