The mammoth task of moat clearance

Tattershall Moat maintenance

Over the past 30 years, despite the best efforts of the grounds team, natural growth in the form of rushes, sedges and typha have choked the water-filled moat system at Tattershall Castle. This year we have taken the dramatic step to clear the moats of all vegetation so we can better manage the habitat and provide a healthier home for our resident wildlife.

A home from home

The moats at Tattershall provide a safe habitat for ducks, cotes and moorhens to live in as well as being an integral element of the life cycles of two internationally protected species – great crested newts and a large colony of bats (predominantly made up of the Common Pipistrelle and Daubenton’s Bat). For the newts the moat provides places to hibernate and places to display during the mating season. 
Discover our ‘newt hotels’ by clicking here
The bat colony, housed in the Great Tower and nearby Holy Trinity Church, uses the moat for liquid refreshment and as a constant source of food in the shape of insects. The vegetation in the moats also provides safe seclusion for the many species of waterfowl to lay and incubate their eggs.

You can read more about our bats by clicking here .

Tattershall Moat after the vegetation removal
Tattershall Moat after the vegetation removal
Tattershall Moat after the vegetation removal

Curzon’s concept

The moats at the castle have had various uses and routes over the years. For a full history of the moats please click here.
When Lord Curzon of Kedleston re-established the double moat system as part of the castle restoration works, his intended purpose was to have moats with a clear mirror-like surface that reflected the beauty and grandeur of the Great Tower. The way we display the castle and grounds today follows this ‘Curzon-esque’ approach of crisp lines, clear and clean spaces and no-fuss presentation to highlight the surviving fifteenth century structures.

A changing habitat

Although the growth of vegetation provides much needed shelter for the resident wildlife the sheer volume and density of vegetation was causing significant problems. The newt population were struggling to find suitable breeding sites and we have seen the population numbers decline. The numbers of wildfowl species living on site has also dropped as the moats are not as attractive as they once were due to the lack of open expanses of water. Also the reed bed had become so dense that the moat habitat was on the cusp of changing to something akin to marshland. On a purely aesthetic level the choked moats were unsightly, didn’t give visitors a good first impression of the site and did not reflect the presentation of the castle as Curzon had left it nor presented in a state befitting a palatial home to some of England’s most important statesmen.

View from Tattershall Castle roof on the neighbouring Holy Trinity Church
Tattershall roof view
View from Tattershall Castle roof on the neighbouring Holy Trinity Church

Cut it out, cut it all out

Working in partnership with the National Trust’s regional Wildlife & Countryside Adviser, Natural England and local wildlife groups a plan was devised and approved to cut down all the natural growth on the moat bed. The decision to simply cut the reeds down at the root was taken to purposely avoid any digging that would require Ancient Monument Consent and sifting every bucket load of soil for buried archaeology. This would not only increase the length of the project but also quadruple the cost. The mammoth task of clearing the moats took place over winter, whilst the newts and bats were in hibernation, and a watching brief was made to ensure that no wildlife was harmed or disturbed during the removal process. Phase one of this project has seen the physical removal of over 30 tonnes of vegetation.

Vegetation grown in Tattershall moat
Vegetation grown in Tattershall moat
Vegetation grown in Tattershall moat

Islands in the stream

Phase two of this project will take place in summer 2018 where the moat bed will be sprayed with a suitably safe and approved herbicide to attack the rushes, sedges and typa at the root. In order to maintain areas of vegetation needed for the resident wildlife to live, hibernate and nest within we have marked out areas in the moat with long stakes that will not be sprayed. This will allow islands of vegetation to grow, the creation of much needed open expanses of water and consequently will not detract from the moats aesthetic appearance. The final phase of the project will be to re-fill the moat with water from the adjacent River Bain.

The end result

Once this project is complete we will be left with a moat that is manageable for the grounds team to maintain, a better quality habitat for the waterfowl, dragonfly and protected species that live at the castle and a better experience for visitors where you can clearly see the historical features of the castle as well as be able to spot the wildlife and learn about the outdoors. Although we have only completed the initial cut, the cleared moat already has the wow factor with frequent flyers to the castle proclaiming ‘I didn’t realise the moat was so big’.

Tattershall Castle's impressive Great Tower
The east and north fronts of the Great Tower at Tattershall Castle
Tattershall Castle's impressive Great Tower

When you slurp a cup of tea, it helps us look after our ancient water feature.

Every penny we receive through second-hand books, signing visitors up as members, choosing a wooden sword to play with or enjoying a tasty cake raises money for the castle to spend on conservation projects. The money we raise as a charity helps us conserve the historical and natural environments and protect these special places for future generations to enjoy.