Eking Out A Meagre Winter Living On Wilden Marsh
In past years it’s been difficult stretching the winter grazing on Wilden Marsh through to the lush new grasses of spring with nine cattle, without incurring additional costs of bringing in forage from outside. A herd of fourteen beasts now compete to devour the best of the 100 acre marsh grazing.
The cattle are on the marsh to help improve its health, vitality and to control invasive weeds, so they are a very important management tool. I wanted the herd increased to make a greater impact on invasive weeds during future growing seasons. Wilden Marsh has existed since the retreat of the ice age and grazing has shaped it, probably since prehistoric times. Without grazing and other methods of dealing with fast growing alder, willow and birch, the marsh will quickly revert to thick impenetrable forest within ten years. Not too long ago, willow withies, reeds and other fast growing marsh plants and trees were used locally for firewood and forage, and cottage industries produced baskets, hats, mats, broom handles, hurdles, fencing, and many other everyday item needed to sustain village and town life.
These days, the resources of Wilden Marsh are used for grazing, left to rot, and to provide protected habitats for a wide variety of fauna and flora. I suppose there will always be those that strive to turn Wilden Marsh over to residential, industrial or leisure development. At a time when we are losing so many species, locally and worldwide, I’m glad there are people and organisations prepared to fight to keep and develop nature reserves for posterity.
To help with land management the north marsh is now fully stock fenced, with gated corridors to ease cattle movement between the various pastures.
For the next three months, the cattle will spend their time grazing Hoo Brook and Riverside Pastures, the Swamp, the North Pasture and the Northern and Tenant Farmer’s Corridors. On Monday I moved the herd from the far south end and put them in Hoo Brook Pasture at the far northern end of the marsh. Yesterday (Friday) I opened the gates allowing the cattle to roam freely between Hoo Brook and the Riverside Pastures and the new corridor joining them. They will start grazing the swamp sometime in January.
Being browsers, the cattle naturally eat the tastiest vegetation first, before progressively moving on to the less palatable plants such as rushes and reeds.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the grazing will last the distance.