Thursday 13th, Friday 14th, Thursday 20th & Friday 21st July 2017
Over the past two weeks we have mostly been cutting grass and nettles and thistles and butterbur (Petasites hybridus) a lot more during visits to Earlham Marsh, Marston Marsh and Swardeston Common. Regular visits are needed during the summer months to keep the paths open and clear some species before they set seed and spread even further across our sites.
Thistles are a good example of a plant that spreads its seed far and wide through wind-blown action. At Earlham Marsh on Thursday 13th July we tackled a large area of creeping thistles with the mower and brush cutters and then raked and stacked the cuttings into piles. Although the site is grazed by horses and cattle they avoid the prickly thistles enabling these to dominate areas and set seed. We also tackled the ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) but there was such a large expanse that it was not possible to make a huge impact on this. Pulling ragwort is a good method of control but it is back-breaking work and very tiring on a hot day. We mowed some of the areas but a lot of low growing ragwort was not touched by the mower. Ragwort can be dangerous to livestock since it affects their livers but generally they avoid it because of its bitter taste.
A long term local resident walking his dog talked about the marsh as it used to be when he was a boy when the whole area was a flood plain and mostly inaccessible during the winter. In the early 80s spoil from construction work in Norwich was dumped along the river edge to form a high bank that is now a path right through to the Watton Road. The bank separates the old marsh areas from the river so it is not now as wet as it used to be.
Our visit to the Ipswich Road end of Marston Marsh on Friday 14th July began with moving the cattle to a different area of the site to even out the grazing. There was a good number of volunteers out that day which was useful to help guide the cattle to their new area. Many of us spread out in a line across an open field to funnel the cattle in the right direction. The cattle dutifully followed Matt, who was carrying a bucket of “cattle lick”, along the dyke edge with a group of volunteers bringing up the rear to encourage the stragglers to keep up. The cattle started to spread out when they came into a new area but our valiant team guided them to a gate on the far side which led to their new home. Job done we could then start to work on the vacated area.
Thistles were again the focus of our attention but here we wanted to preserve the marsh thistles (Cirsium palustre) while removing the creeping thistles (Cirsium arvense). Once we had learned which was which we used brush cutters to clear the dyke edges. The mower was used to cut back the path edges and clear the more open areas of thistles. We also cut back the alder and willow scrub along the paths and started working around the dyke edges across the marsh. The mower got a lot of use that day but it became clear that all was not well and the smell of burning rubber was getting stronger. A bit of investigation by Keith and fireman Chris identified that the drive belt had stretched and was rubbing and clearly needed a replacement – so back to the repairers once again.
While clearing the alder and willow scrub we came across the base of an old structure hidden within a stand of willow. This was around eight-foot square and made of brick with large metal pins with eye holes. Could have been a tower of a wind pump with the metal pins used to stabilise it or perhaps an old pump house. Matt had not seen this before so we couldn’t identify what it might have been.
Last week we had two days at Swardeston Common. On the Thursday 20th July, we cut a large area of the meadow with brush cutters since the mower was still at the repairers. This area of the meadow was largely grass with the occasional orchid still in flower which we carefully avoided. We also left standing some ragwort which had a colony of feeding cinnabar moth caterpillars. So, it was a day of cutting, raking and dragging the grass to spoil heaps around the edge which will be great habitats for over-wintering insects and other creatures.
We returned to Swardeston Common on Friday 21st July to continue our cutting back. The remaining areas of the meadow still had many flowering plants and many flowering orchids so it was decided to leave this area for another few weeks before cutting. There was still plenty to do cutting the path edges dominated by butterbur, thistles and nettles. Fortunately, the mower had been repaired so we could deal with the path edges. We had three brush cutters today and sufficient numbers of trained volunteers to use them to clear the butterbur, nettles and thistles. We also had enough people to rake up the cuttings and drag these on tarpaulins to the habitat piles.
We were joined for part of the day by Matt Hewes who will shortly be joining the Fringe Project team as a new Project Assistant working with (old) Matt. Today was an opportunity for (the new) Matt to see what we get up to and to meet some of our wonderful, hardworking and highly experienced volunteers. I am sure that he was impressed! 😀😇
On Friday evening Matt led a group of cubs and scouts from the Lakenham area on a walk around Marston Marsh to show them the site. I helped Matt to run a dyke dipping session for the group to explore what lives in the dykes. Despite living nearby few of the group had been to Marston Marsh previously and were surprised that the area existed so near to Norwich and with such a wide variety of wildlife and habitats.