26 February 2013


In the raw, bleak days that we have been experiencing lately, days spent working outside don't hold much appeal. However, January and February are an ideal time of year to carry out hedging work on the meadows. The berries of the hedgerow shrubs have mostly been eaten by the birds and it is still too early for birds to be thinking about nesting.
Hedgerow management at the meadows is mostly rotational coppicing, with a priority being to coppice elm that has started to succumb to Dutch elm disease.  Coppicing elm helps to rejuvenate it and makes sure this characteristic hedgerow species continues to survive in our  hedges.

The work can look drastic immediately after it is done, but the coppiced shrubs quickly put up strong shoots in the new growing season and in a few years a really dense hedge has re-grown. Only a short section of hedge is coppiced in any one winter so that there is always a good range of ages and structure to the hedge and cover for birds and other wildlife is always maintained.

Last week the Suffolk Wildlife Trust mid-week volunteer team undertook some coppicing at both Mickfield and Fox Fritillary meadows - despite the cold the team completed two good sections of hedge and hopefully found the task a good way to keep warm in a particularly perishing week!
 I would like to thank Stuart Holland (mid-week conservation team leader) and his team for all their hard work on the meadows' behalf. Thanks also to Stuart for the photographs.

11 February 2013

Just the Thicket

At this time of year, the focus of the meadows tends to be on the edges and hedges rather than the grassland itself.  The boundary features are not only the framework within which the meadows sit, but also provide valuable links and wildlife corridors that connect nature reserves with the wider countryside.

The winter months are the ideal time to carry out management on the hedges and scrub, causing minimal disruption to wildlife and its habitat. Working rotationally on these habitats further reduces any impact, as a refuge is always maintained even when seemingly quite dramatic work such as coppicing is undertaken.

One of the tasks this winter has been to begin to rejuvenate and thicken a block of blackthorn scrub.

This species can form really dense thickets which are favoured by species like bullfinch. However, as the blackthorn matures it becomes quite drawn and leggy in character and begins to loose its 'thicket' quality.  The thinner structure is less valuable for birds.The answer is to coppice it in rotation to encourage denser re-growth.

The block of blackthorn we have worked on at Martin's meadows this year has been 'high' coppiced  with the aim of ensuring the new growth is above rabbit feeding height. We did coppice a small area a couple of years ago  down to ground and the rabbits made swift work of removing all the re-growth! We have learnt our lesson and have tried a different tack this year.  Hopefully the result will be strong dense growth, thick enough to suit bullfinch and from which you can hear this bird's faint  but distinctive whistle like song. (Photo of bullfinch by Darin Smith)