A crisp, dry morning greeted the thirty-plus volunteers who turned out to cut and burn reeds at South Milton Ley today. Coordinated by Nick Townsend, the team of Devon Birds’ members, local birders, National Trust volunteers and a good number of residents from South Milton and the surrounding area, was able to cut and clear around 5,000 square metres of reedbed in around three hours.
Several weeks of low rainfall rain meant that the reeds were standing upright and relatively dry, which enabled Rory Sanders, driving the reed-cutting machine, to make good progress until contact with an ancient roll of discarded barbed wire damaged the cutting blade. Nevertheless, almost all of the target area was cleared and the dry cut reeds were much easier to burn than last year’s damp offerings. The excellent turnout made the whole process more enjoyable and a lot less physically demanding than the previous two years.
Mowing sections of the reedbed on an eight-year rotation is part of the management plan agreed with Natural England for the reserve and helps to rejuvenate it by preventing the accumulation of plant debris. If not managed, this can accelerate the drying out of the marsh and encourage colonisation by willow, alder and other trees. Cutting back the old dry stems and burning them slows down this natural process and encourages vigorous new growth to the benefit of the whole ecosystem. By next autumn the entire area will be a sea of healthy, fresh, green reeds.
Many thanks from Devon Birds to all those who took part.
Alan Pomroy, 21 January 2017