BSNHS

©BSNHS 2014

As August turns to September, the hot, dry weather has given way to something a bit fresher, along with a few welcome showers. After such a prolonged period without much rain, parts of the reserve are looking very dry.

Marsh in April Marsh in June

Sawbridgeworth Marsh

View from the Marsh - September 2016

Andy Sapsford Reserve Warden

Marsh in JulyMarsh in August
Marsh in OctMarsh in Nov

Some earlier views from the marsh

Marsh in DecMarsh in JanMarsh in FebMarsh in March

This is of some concern, as the ditches were excavated in order to provide habitat for water voles, should they manage to recolonise the marsh from their release site upstream at Thorley Wash. However, it is worth reflecting that water voles were present on the reserve in the 1990s, through a period of prolonged drought, and I suspect they would simply relocate to ditches where water was still present, or move to the backwater temporarily.

In contrast, the northern end of the marsh still appears to be very wet, in particular the footpath which runs close to the northern boundary, which is still underwater. This part of the marsh has seen a good deal of activity recently, when the digger arrived to continue the habitat improvement works started last year. The stretch of ditch running up through the reedbed was extended out to the northern boundary and the excavated material heaped up to form a solid new path on a raised bank. The digger was present for three days and the opportunity was also taken on the last day to widen and deepen the pond by the roadside in Round Moors, which will doubtless please the cattle as they do use this pond to wallow and drink in.

New excavated ditches by reedbed

Round Moors Pond

The 6 yearling cows and 2 steers, which came on in mid - July have made steady progress, mostly on the northern field of Rush Mead. We did have some problems with them in the bottom field, where the small steers were able to squeeze through the barbed wire fence. As a result of this, I was forced to confine them to the larger top field although suitable grazing remains in the other field. This is a result of both their small size and of the fact that, when the fencing was originally put in, too wide a spacing was allowed between the posts, with the result that calves in particular are able to get through the fence, despite it containing 4 strands of wire. The solution is to insert more posts to reduce the spacing and tighten up the wire, which will be done on this roadside boundary later on in the winter.

The main job in September is to cut the peatbank on Rush Mead, which is the most floristically rich part of the reserve. This used to be a much more labour intensive task than it is now and the cutting of the peatbank, raking up and burning / stacking of the cut material used to take the entire month. Since the reintroduction of cattle grazing, only a small area needs to be cut, so the task can now normally be completed within a week. Although the cattle grazing has undoubtedly been of benefit to the overall appearance of the sward in my view, there are definitely some plant species, such as tufted vetch and hay rattle, which do not benefit from grazing. Having adjacent areas of the same field which are subjected to two different management regimes is therefore valuable.

As expected at this time of the year, there seems to be little in the way of wildlife to be seen. There are a few brown hawkers and common darters around, but not as many as might be expected, probably as a result of the dry conditions. September is, however, the month to look for a recent arrival in the Stort valley, the willow emerald, so all might not be lost just yet.