Bracken control on the Long Mynd
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Why do we control the bracken?
We control the bracken because it is part of our Conservation Management Plan for the Long Mynd. The bracken is an invasive species, so we need to control it so that it doesn't spread into the heather and shade it out. We don't want to get rid of the bracken altogether as it is an important habitat in its own right, for example where the bracken grows on steep slopes the whinchats choose this as their breeding ground. A thin covering of bracken is also good as it shades the grass, providing food for the sheep, particularly during hot weather.
How do we control the bracken?
The team use a couple of methods to control the bracken. The first is to simply cut it; the team aim to cut 40 hectares a year, the team use this method as much as they can, but due to the slopes they are confined to the flat areas. In previous years the cut bracken has been collected and sold to visitors as compost for their gardens. Due to how successful the cutting is, we can't do this every year because we don't want to suppress the bracken too much.
The other option is then to spray the bracken with a herbicide called Azulox, this chemical only kills ferns and it is 95%-100% effective in controlling the bracken. The decision to use chemicals isn't taken lightly, permission needs to be given from the Environment Agency in the first instance; you can't re-spray an area for 3 years; no matter how much the bracken might have grown back and the team prioritise areas where the bracken is encroaching on the heather. The team aim to spray 20 hectares a year.
How do we monitor the bracken?
The rangers record what areas they are spraying or cutting each time they do it. These areas are recorded by our Ecologist, Caroline Uff. In the following spring Caroline will carry out an assessment of these areas and make a decision on how effective the spraying or cutting has been.
Has this control been successful?
Yes it has, where the team have cut and sprayed the bracken has been greatly reduced, but it is still providing the much needed cover over the grasses; and the heather is continuing to recover and spread as we would like.