Thistling Month.

Sunrise: 04.52 Sunset: 09.34

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Shetland cow eating Himalayan balsam in Hoo Wood Pasture, on Wilden Marsh.

It is said that cattle are not selective grazers; they are on the marsh where Himalayan balsam is concerned, to the exclusion of all other vegetation until the balsam is eaten – which I have to say I’m pleased about. I would like the balsam eaten as soon as possible.

The Riverside Pasture is free of balsam for the time being, but is now chockablock with thistles and nettles; although these are preferable to balsam, they spread like wildfire. The saying goes: “Cut the thistle in June and it’s a month too soon. Cut the thistle in July and it will surely die.”  So July should be thistling month, but it is a matter of having sufficient resources to get the job done. Anyway, it will take a few years to get this prickly weed under control. It is too late for the cattle to sort out the thistle problem in the RS pasture this year, and they might not even eat the thistle unless it is cut first. If this is true, we will have to train them to eat it uncut.

We could mow the Riverside Pasture and the Northern Corridor, but it is more beneficial to use cattle: their footfall is so much smaller, lighter, and far better for the ground and flora, and they are less disruptive. Give me cattle instead of the flail any day; they also trample seeds well into the topsoil. However, we don’t want to overgraze and it is not likely that we will ever find a perfect grazing solution for Wilden Marsh. Fortunately, perfection is not the name of the game here: keeping things turning over whilst improvements are being made is about the best that can be achieved in the short term. I’m not saying, either, that we will be able to do without flailing, but we will try to minimise it.

This is the first year the cattle have grazed the far northern end of the marsh, so it is wrong to expect miracles at such an early stage.

We’ll see how things progress.

When the cattle have finished in Hoo Brook Pasture, hopefully by the end of next week, they can take on the shoulder high long grass and thistles in the Northern Corral and Corridor. Drinking water is short here so rain and a few puddles would be useful, unless we allow them access to North Pond.

6 Comments on “Thistling Month.

    • There is plenty of shoulder high grass in the Northern Corridor, Tom, and the cattle can easily wander there whenever they want to, but they prefer eating balsam.

  1. Thistles and nettles are great for bees and butterflies. What do you hope will grow in their place after they’re grazed?

    • The Himalayan balsam smothers our native flora, Emily. I hope we will end up with a rich variety of traditional meadow flora to attract and nourish a plethora of fauna.

      The object is to control the spread of thistles, nettles and brambles on the marsh.

      • Didn’t mean to sound critical, was just interested in what would grow instead. Perhaps you will take some photos for us 🙂

      • Your question was perfectly reasonable, Emily, and I hope I answered it to your satisfaction.

        Please feel free to ask about our conservation activities on the marsh.

        It will take a few years before Wilden Marsh Meadows are back in reasonable condition, and it is the cattle that will do most of the work.

        The Riverside Pasture was alive with tortoiseshell butterflies on the weekend.

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