9 Days After The Cattle Finished Grazing The Rhombus Field

I’m particularly keen on improving the Rhombus Field. This is a wet field with its overflow exiting into the main south marsh central drainage ditch, on its way to South Pond, where it finally enters the River Stour through the main sluice 500 metres downstream. The 4.5 acre Middle Wood, a wet non-intervention area, protects the field’s eastern border; the 5 acre Flooded Wood Pasture shields its northern end; the boggy Orchid Field its southern end, and the 3.2 acre Tenant Farmer’s Field runs the full length of its western border. The River Stour and Worcester and Staffordshire Canal are around 70 metres beyond the Rhombus Field’s west stock fence, across the Tenant Farmer’s Field – both flowing north to south.

The 4 acre Rhombus Field is a quiet and secure place that receives most of the available sunshine. Following the recent grazing, I’ve disturbed the south marsh vixen, deer, lapwing, and snipe at various times during my evening walks through it. I think the field has character. I like the natural textures of its flora, its colours, its extremes, and the way sunlight reflects and scatters from bent and broken wind-blown rush fronds. When the conditions are right, on clear and windy autumn evenings, sunlight bouncing from water sloshing around plant roots causes colourful and powerful flashing star effects. In other places the hidden water shimmers and appears to snake through the vegetation, like so many will-o’-the-wisps as reflected light splits and streams skywards through the loose ground litter. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to photograph these reflected flashing and shimmering light effects. This field is protected and framed by barbed wire topped stock fencing covered in various forms of vegetation.

This evening, 25th September, I’m inspecting the Rhombus Field nine days after the cattle were moved north into the neighbouring Flooded Wood Pasture after 11 days of continuous grazing. I let the cattle into the Rhombus Field, through the corridor gate, on 5th September; the vegetation was almost 2 metres high and packed in tightly against the border fences and gates. I push the field gate open just wide enough for the cattle to squeeze through – they ate their way in. The video accompanying this post shows the condition of the field after the nine day rest period. I plan on making a number of videos following this field’s progress throughout this and next year.

The Rhombus Field vegetation consists of a mixture of reed sweet-grass (Glyceria maxima), Soft Rush (Juncus effusus), lesser reedmace (typha angustifolia) lesser tussock sedge (Carex diandra), great willowherb (Equilobium hirtsutum), meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), water dock (Rumex hydrolapathum), common reed (Phragmites australis), English oak (Quercus robur), alder (Alnus glutinosa),  goat willow (Salix caprea), Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), nettles (Urtica dioica), and brambles.

Wilden Marsh is a nature reserve and SSSI, and we are interested in all aspects associated with the fauna and flora using the site, so a short explanation of the benefits and drawbacks of some the plants growing in the Rhombus Field might prove useful:

 Reedmace: an edible plant that is one of the first to colonise wet areas. They germinate best with sunlight and fluctuating temperatures. Amongst their many benefits, reedmace, or bulrush as it is also known, enriches the soil with bacteria and humus; it is said that they exude antibiotics that kill fungi, and are capable of taking up large quantities of ballast substances including cobalt, nickel and manganese from sewage pollution.

Reedmace roots can be eaten raw and cooked. Rich in starch, they can be dried and ground into a powder or made into syrup. The buds at the end of the rhizomes are crisp and sweet, making excellent raw eating. Young shoots are eaten raw and cooked. Seeds are ground into a powder and mixed with flour for use in cooking, but they are small and fiddly to harvest and utilise. Bases of mature stems are eaten raw or cooked. Its rich pollen is eaten raw or cooked, and mixed with flour for use in cooking.

The stems are frequently used to make matting, chair bottoms, etc. and thatching; they were at one time imported in large quantities for this purpose. The pith of the stems is used in papermaking.

Creeping thistle: is a very invasive weed, its seeds are an important food source for the goldfinch, linnet, and to a lesser extent other finches; its leaf foliage is food for 20 species of Lepidoptera, including the painted lady butterfly and the engrailed: a species of moth.

Meadowsweet: the perennial plant meadowsweet can lead to grass swards breaking-up in wet areas and pastures. Meadowsweet is grazed by sheep and goats. Cattle and horses do not eat meadowsweet, but their trampling can disturb its growth. Cut meadowsweet when it is in bloom to control it, repeat when necessary.

Meadowsweet, sometimes referred to as “herbal aspirin”, has delicate, graceful, creamy-white flowers clustered close together in irregularly-branched cymes, having a very strong, sweet smell. They flower from early summer to early autumn and are visited by various types of insects, in particular Musca flies.

This plant contains the chemicals used to make aspirin. A small section of root, when peeled and crushed smells like Germolene, and when chewed is a good natural remedy for relieving headaches. A natural black dye can be obtained from the roots by using a copper mordant. About one in five people with asthma have Samter’s triad in which aspirin induces asthma symptoms. Therefore, asthmatics should be aware of the possibility that meadowsweet, with its similar biochemistry, will also induce symptoms of asthma.

So meadowsweet has been a useful curative through the ages, used to protect and soothe the mucous membranes of the digestive tract and prevent overacidity in the stomach. Said to be the best digestive and antacid remedy available, it can be used to re-build digestive systems during recovery from heavy drug administration, and assist ulceration caused by drugs. It may benefit any pain caused by inflammation and heat. It can speed the healing of connective tissues and helps resolve pain and inflammation. Meadowsweet is known to have an aspirin effect on arteries and veins, and will assist with blood disorders.

Common reed: can be cut under the water so that their stems rot. Thicker stands can be burnt during the winter and the cattle can graze new shoots during the spring. Early grazing is a good way to control reed.

However, common reed (Phragmites australis) is one of the main wetland plant species used for phytoremediation water treatment: bioremediation bacterial action on the surface of roots and leaf litter removes some of the nutrients in biotransformation. The water is then suitable for irrigation, groundwater recharge, or release to natural watercourses. So common reeds are useful plants to have growing in wetlands.

Alder: be careful when cutting alder in pastures, as shoots spring up around the stump that livestock do not like the taste of. By ring barking shoots are avoided, but it can take up to 5 years or more before the trees die. Grinding of the stumps is the best alternative, but expensive. Otherwise make sure that the stumps are cut as close to the ground as possible to make cutting of shoots easier.

Nettles: we all know that nettles sting us following contact with our exposed skin. The acute urticaria is caused by the release of histamine, serotonin, and choline from the hairs and spines of the leaves and stem; generally, the pain and irritation doesn’t last long. A few years grazing will help control the spead of nettles.

Creeping thistle: creeping thistle is perennial and spreads easily by seed; it has a deep branched root that easily grows new shoots, so it is hard to exterminate. It often turns up in pastures after extensive cutting of bushes and trees, and is avoided by livestock. Cut off close to the ground level before it buds to control its spread.

Brambles: brambles are important food plants for the larvae of several species of Lepidoptera. The leaves of brambles are often used as a main food source for captive stick insects. Many birds, such as the common blackbird, and some mammals will feed on the nutritious fruits in autumn.

Signs of undergrazing in wetland and waterside margins include: rush/reed encroachment at the expense of grass; growth of shrubs, particularly Willow; habitat (wet grassland) becoming drier; domination of stream sides by single plant species i.e. reed canary grass, rosebay willowherb or meadowsweet; reduction in numbers of different plants; reduction in numbers of ground-nesting birds.

Signs of overgrazing in wetland and waterside margins:  reduction in overall plant species composition; closely grazed patches of rush; lack of wetland invertebrates such as dragonflies; reduction in number of ground nesting birds such as Lapwing.

If the field conditions allow, I would like the Rhombus Field grazed again at least once this year, and as much willow scrub as possible removed. However, no matter how much I might want to do things on the marsh, I am often overtaken by events that prevent me from achieving my goals.

Please contact me if you are interested in volunteering on Wilden Marsh: mikeatwildenmarsh@hotmail.co.uk



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