Another year and yet another packed programme of management to ensure that all is ready for the forthcoming grazing season. This month sees the usual annual trim to the Melford Road hedge, the replacement of fencing where posts are old and decayed and, weather permitting, the slubbing out of ditches with a JCB.
Hedge trimming is carried out while growth is dormant but after the birds have eaten the majority of the hedgerow fruits and berries. January is also suitable for trimming the Melford Road hedge as the daffodil bulbs seem to push up a little earlier each year and the tractor wheels would certainly squash them were the work at all delayed.
Clearing ditches during January or February means that little wildlife is disturbed although great care has to be taken to avoid removing the locally or nationally scarce plants that now occur in them. Chief among these is the Tubular Water Dropwort but there are others such as the diminutive Skullcap and the beautiful Flowering Rush. Whilst the JCB goes about its business the occasional snipe is put up from the ditch margins. It is really rather extraordinary that these birds can forage in these areas but sit tight when people or dogs pass by unless their exact location is ‘discovered’ in which case they take to the sky with explosive speed, zigzagging upwards away from their assumed predators.
Through the winter, work is carried out in the various plantations to thin trees, create habitat piles for wildlife and plant new saplings where necessary. At this time of year the brown and black woodcock favour these small areas for feeding and also go unnoticed unless disturbed. Of course, there are still plenty of trees to deal with following the October 2012 gale but they are all out of the way and not causing anyone any inconvenience.
The riverside pastures are now well and truly wet. They are performing the function accepted by man very many centuries ago when river valleys were cleared of wet woodland and were replaced by semi-natural summer grazing pastures. Nature dictated the wise removal of livestock before winter rains led to swollen rivers and inundated floodplains. It is to be hoped, however, that the current cycle of gales and torrential rainfall might be interspersed with a greater number of bright winter days.