Controlling the bracken
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 we do it
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, we use this method as much as we can, but due to the slopes we're confined to the flat areas.
The other option is then to spray the bracken with a herbicide called Azulox, this chemical only kills ferns and it is 95 per cent to 100 per cent 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.
A new purpose
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.
How it's monitored
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.
A successful project
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.