Every year, at hay-making time, people ask why we cut the grass. They worry about the creatures that live in and on our grassland fields, and mourn the loss of the summer’s beautiful buttercups.
If we didn’t cut the grass, the reserve would very rapidly revert to overgrown tussock and then to bramble thicket. Both of these are valuable habitats in their own right, but the reserve is focused on the ecology of old grassland, a frighteningly rare habitat now, and the species that grow, live or hunt there.
Tussock and thicket
Ideally, mature grassland would be grazed but the reserve is too close to town, too full of walkers, picnickers, children and dogs, to risk grazing sheep or cattle there. Instead, the reserve is rented to a local farmer who cuts the grass for hay or silage once or twice a year.
Despite facing all kinds of restraints, terms and conditions on what he can and cannot do, the farmer is open to negotiations. He is more than happy to mow round things we might consider important like crab apple saplings, boggy patches of sedge, and orchids. He leaves wide headlands and mows the fields over several days so that wildlife can find refuge or relocate. We couldn’t manage the reserve without him.
Crab apple and bee orchid
There are disadvantages. The agricultural timetable and the life cycles of the reserves wildlife do not always match up; every year there are plants that are cut before they can make seed, insects that cannot complete their life cycle because of the loss of their foodplant or their habitat, and, sadly, there is a death toll among the small mammals that live in the fields. And the ever-growing size and weight of modern agricultural machinery damages soil structure and threatens the reserve’s infrastructure.
The advantages save Trowbridge’s rate-payers the cost of hiring contractors to cut and remove the grass from the reserve, and maintain precious old grassland habitat. The fields and their slowly developing biosphere remain largely undamaged, the buttercups flower every year and the reserve is open for you and your family.
Header Image: Meadow grass with bee orchids (SCPLNR 11.06.22) by Ian Bushell