Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve: Cycle of Life.

I’m in a contemplative mood this evening. Whether I lament the passing of summer or rejoice at the imminent arrival of a new season, I am not yet sure. I am excited at the prospect of a new cycle of life on the marsh. Winter is often a struggle for animals that don’t hibernate. The change from plenty to meagre pickings is inevitable, especially during hard winters. Predators, in particular, have to make the best of dwindling food supplies. I look forward to watching badgers, foxes and raptors cope with winter. My favourite times on the marsh involve cold moonlit nights with frozen crackling grass and ice underfoot, and of course fresh falls of snow.

I have thought a lot about trees lately: their relevance on the marsh; the amount of water they use; their effect on standing and ground water levels; whether we have enough standing deadwood; which trees we should keep as standards, which should we fell, and how best to manage those remaining. Willow and birch trees that we cleared at the beginning of this year have sprouted multiple leafed shoots from their sawn stumps (stools), and these have regrown to heights in excess of 8 feet in some cases.

The process of cutting trees close to the ground and allowing fresh branches to grow from the stools is called coppicing. Coppicing is an ancient woodland management system that utilises repetitive felling to near ground level to encourage multiple shoots to grow from the main stump (called the coppice stool). Coppicing maintains trees in a youthful state, greatly extending their longevity, allows sunlight to fall on the ground in between them, and produces growth that is more practically managed by eager volunteers with hand tools.

There are various woods on and around Wilden Marsh. Trees continually invade open ground beyond these dedicated areas. Too many trees growing where they shouldn’t can clog ditches and ponds, and they will quickly take over the marsh. In short, a forest is a forest; a wood is a wood; a pasture is a pasture, and a marsh is a marsh. To allow a valuable reserve to become overgrown with fast growing woodland shrub and scrub is a mistake that can be expensive and time-consuming to rectify. We have contractors removing many of our larger trees during this autumn and winter. We can either invite them back in twenty years time to do it all again, or we use the coppicing system to control and manage regrowth.

There are varied fauna and valuable flora living and growing within the specialised ecosystems and habitats that is The Marsh.

Some of the natural and environmental assets on and bordering Wilden Marsh include:

Wet and dry fields.
Wet and dry woods.
Bogs, mires and swamp.
Flooded ditches.
Ponds and pools.
Natural springs.
A brook.
A river.
An island.
The Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal (bordering the western edge of the reserve),.

On 29th December last year I facilitated the first Sunday Conservation Workday, aimed at getting local people interested and involved in the practical nature of Wilden Marsh. We now have dedicated volunteers who turn out each month to help with conservation tasks. Our small, enthusiastic and effective conservation team is capable of working wonders around the marsh, and now we need to steadily increase our pool of volunteer workers so we can call on additional help when the need arises.

Our Conservation Sundays are social and educational events as well as workdays, and we manage to get a lot work done. Everyone seems to enjoy themselves: there is much laughing, joking and chatting. Anyone wishing to get involved, please email or call me.

We have an island on the west side of the reserve, hemmed in between the River Stour and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. It’s a wild and boggy area; it’s home to the heronry and munjac deer. In summer it is thick with 8 feet high Himalayan Balsam, brambles and stinging nettles. The plan is to graze the cattle on the island, but first we need to put an access bridge over the River Stour.

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