On an extremely wet and wild day in Wensleydale I was invited to join a group of farmers to talk about rush management. As every keen and eager apprentice should, I snapped up the opportunity to don every conceivable form of waterproof clothing and learn all I could.
Firstly, a bit of background. The event was arranged for the Wensleydale Facilitation Fund group and was hosted by two of the groups members, Ian and Allen Kirkbride. The Facilitation Fund is an initiative to enable farmers to share ideas and work together to improve the natural environment across their land. The idea being that more can be achieved by working together at a landscape scale, rather than solely individual farms.
The Wensleydale Facilitation Fund group was set up in 2017 with the National Park Authority’s Land Management Advisor Tarja Wilson as facilitator. It is the role of the facilitator to orchestrate the groups ‘get togethers’ in the form of meetings and events, such as this.
This event revolved around a farm walk with Ian Cairns, a grassland consultant, looking at rush encroachment. For information, Ian is the only one mad enough not to have a hood up in the photo. Oh, and Tarja was sensible enough to take all the photos, so she is not in them!
As you can imagine from the image above, rush encroachment presents various issues and options for its management. It was encouraging to see that, despite the weather, the farmers were eager to engage in conversation.
To me, it was instantly obvious that Ian was not there to preach to the group and, as a result, the farmers felt at ease to ask questions and discuss what had and hadn’t worked for them. While stood amongst thick tussocks of common rush, the discussion was centred on techniques of controlling it, such as wiping with different types of machinery and/or chemicals and topping. The advantages and disadvantages and the best times for each was also talked about.
Knowing the reasons for rush control is crucial when planning any management. As the focus of the group is improving the natural environment, the discussion included how the habitat available for breeding waders can be improved by creating a mosaic of features.
The priority species of wader are lapwing, curlew, redshank and snipe, each with differing requirements. Scattered rush and tussocks will provide shelter and open areas for feeding. Wetland features such as pools and scrapes are important. Also, mixed habitat rather than a monoculture of short grazed land will aid natural flood management.
We then moved to an area which had been topped, and Allen described the work being undertaken. Lifting an area of soil, Ian went on to talk about how long term control will only be achieved by addressing underlying soil problems. This invited a lengthy discussion on the pros and cons of liming. Acknowledging the interest of the farmers present he delved into the technicalities of nutrients, acidity and compaction.
However, despite the intense conversation, we had all been standing still for far too long and I, for one, was freezing. To all our relief, refreshments had been arranged at a nearby pub and we gladly retreated to the warmth of the fireplace to continue the discussion.
While tucking into some tasty sarnies and washing it down with a cuppa, the conversation covered a wide range of related topics – everything from agri-environment schemes and soil reports to – dare I mention it – Brexit.
It was clear that there was still so much to be discussed, but time waits for no man. To me, the event was a success and the group have asked Ian to return in February to focus on soil reports. I have learnt a lot from both Ian and each of the farmers and I hope I can join them again for this.
To find out more about the ways we work with, and can offer support to, farmers and land managers – as well as advice about available grants – please visit our website.