Marston Marsh – Stock fencing around coppiced Willows

Friday 15th April 2016

To somebody looking on, it could have seemed like the preamble to a film, when one by one, the cast assembled at the prearranged venue and each in turn donned their waterproof jacket and trousers and wellies. This was the scene today as we waited in the rain for Matt to arrive at the car park next to Marston Marsh. It was raining when we got there and it was still raining when we eventually left (earlier than normal) shortly after lunch.

Today’s work was to erect wire fencing around willow trees that had been coppiced last autumn. This is being done in advance of the cattle being released onto this part of the marsh.  If the trees are not protected in this way the cattle will eat the new shoots that will be growing soon.  It is important to do this because one of the aims of the management project for the marsh is to create a varied age structure to the trees.

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Willow is a very vigorous grower that thrives in wet conditions and when left unmanaged grows rapidly. The long branches that the tree produces very frequently fracture at the joint with the trunk.  These branches stay attached to the tree and the parts that touch the ground form their own roots which in turn produce their own growth.  This layering effect, if left unmanaged, would soon produce a tangled and usually dense thicket. The consequence of this is less light to the ground and less plant growth and bio-diversity. If this cycle is allowed to continue the ground under the trees will become sterile, their root system and falling leaves will block the water ways that drain the marsh and the whole area will no longer be able to be used as a recreational area.

The management plan for the marsh is to increase biodiversity with a range of measures. Allowing cattle onto the marsh to graze the grasses and reeds is one measure, another is coppicing willow trees on different parts of the marsh in different years on a rolling programme over several years. This will give an age spread of growth (and height) of the trees and one of the beneficiaries of this action is the bird life. Some smaller birds use the tree tops as song posts and others as hopping off points when trying to evade aerial predators.

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A number of coppiced willows were identified by Matt to be fenced off and these were split into four groups to be encircled by the wire stock fencing. Hammering the posts into the ground was not difficult and as some of the posts were being hammered into position, the ground could be seen to be shuddering with every thump of the hammer as the ground was so soft and marshy. With the posts in position, the stock net fencing could be nailed on. This took longer than you would have thought, as trying to get the stock fencing taut was a little problematical; it had been stored rolled up and didn’t want to be straightened out.

I think we will be back here again soon as we should have put a single strand of barbed wire across the stock fencing, to discourage the cattle from trying to stretch over the fence to reach to new growth, or indeed anybody from trying to step over it.

The fences will only be there for 2-3 years to allow the trees to grow above the cattle’s reach.

Written by Alan Rae, Norwich Fringe Project Volunteer