BSNHS

©BSNHS 2014

After a few days of very hot weather around the middle of July, the weather has settled down and it is now far more comfortable to work in. The rainfall has been quite low recently, however, and this is particularly noticeable in the fen drains, where water levels appear to be very low in some cases. All of the drains still contain some water though, as a result of the way they were dug out last year, with a shallow shelf on one side and a deeper channel next to it. This work is set to continue this month.

Marsh in April Marsh in June

Sawbridgeworth Marsh

View from the Marsh - August 2016

Andy Sapsford Reserve Warden

Marsh in July
Marsh in OctMarsh in Nov

Some earlier views from the marsh

Marsh in DecMarsh in JanMarsh in FebMarsh in March

Now that the birds have finished nesting in the sedgebeds, it is deemed safe for the digger to return to the marsh and to excavate further channels between the reedbed and the northern boundary. When the reedbed is cut during the winter, a shallow ditch is evident running alongside the path, although it is doubtful whether this ditch was ever dug out deeper than it is today. The excavation work is due to commence at the end of this month.

 While the digger is on site, the opportunity will also be taken to slightly enlarge the Alec Martin Pond. This pond was originally dug out in 1971, shortly after the reserve was purchased. During the drought of 1994, the dried out pond was deepened further and it was during this work that a sheep's skeleton was discovered buried at the interface between the clay being excavated and the primeval peat beneath, which dated the skeleton to somewhere in the Neolithic era. A set of pony's horseshoes were also unearthed, these being of a plain simple design and evidently also very old.

Aside from ditching work, the main tasks on the marsh at this time of year are scything of the path network to maintain access and clearance of invading Himalayan balsam. In some areas, this troublesome weed appears not to be so prevalent, or even completely absent, compared to previous years. In other areas, however, it is abundant and is coming up like mustard and cress. In many ways, the effort we expend in pulling the plants out to prevent seeding is futile as winter floods would soon bring in a fresh supply of seeds from up - river. We do feel though that we should try to control it as much as we can and at least try to prevent it spreading further into the marsh. Other troublesome weeds, although this time native ones, are common ragwort and creeping thistle and this time we have had a good deal more success, effectively clearing Round Moors of the thistle after 3 - 4 years and severely reducing the occurrence of ragwort through regular pulling and vigilance. As a result, the fields are better for the cattle to graze in.

This year, the cattle arrived later than usual. After a slow start, the vegetation suddenly bolted in May and the 6 cows and 2 steers that we have on this year appear to be spoilt for choice and it looks like they won't get through all the forage by October, although I suspect they probably will.

The cattle are back

Cammon valerian in sedge beds

Further down from the grazed fields, the sedgebeds are a mass of common valerian, purple loosestrife and hemp agrimony. I don't think I have ever seen so much valerian and it is easy to forget that, outside of special places such as Sawbridgeworth marsh and Thorley Wash, it is an uncommon and declining plant.

After a quiet period, there appear to be more butterflies on the wing again, with an immigrant surge of red admirals joining the second generation whites, commas and peacocks. The appearance of masses of late summer marsh flowers will be a welcome sight for all of them.