Doffcocker: Reaping the Future

Doffcocker LNR 12th and 26th December – Reedbed Management

Spreading out.

Redbeds have been one of the UK’s fastest declining habitats. Historically reeds were used for thatching, which because it was a widespread practice helped to maintain the health and extent of reedbeds, but as slate and other materials replaced reeds the maintenance of the beds lapsed and they began to decline. Some beds are still managed for thatch but it is only on a small scale.

In recent years reedbeds have had a renaissance for both commercial and conservation purposes. Reedbeds are excellent water filters and can be used in sewage treatment, but they only have a lifespan of 5-15 years depending on the effluent load that flows through them. For us the value in reedbeds lies in their importance to conservation.

Reedbeds support around 700 species of invertebrate plus many species of bird, amphibian, mammal and fish; bittern, water rail, reed bunting, reed warbler, water shrew, otter, to name a few. Not all of these are found in Bolton but Doffcocker does have a fine collection of warblers and has been visited by bittern.

As a reedbed ages dead material and silt build up, this gradually turns flowing water into marsh and then dry land. As the reedbed becomes dryer other species move in such as willow and birch; the same process also affects mossland, a habitat that has also been in decline. Reed cutting and the removal of trees helps to maintain the health of a reedbed.

Reed Warbler
Reed Warbler
Reed Bunting
Reed Bunting

Our two final tasks of 2021 involved removing trees and cutting an area of reed. Reedbeds are usually cut in winter, it can be done in summer but as this kills the new shoots it is usually used to control the spread of a reedbed. Only small areas of the bed are cut at any one time, not all of it at once, this maintains existing habitat while the cut areas recover. At Doffcocker the cutting regime is on a 7 year cycle, so next year we’ll cut a different section and so on year after year.

Being BCV we don’t like to waste anything, so all of the brash and logs from the trees were use to create a dead hedge along the fence between the reedbed and the causeway, this will help to create temporary habitat for wild life as well as removing unwanted material from amongst the reeds.

The reeds themselves were cut with a brushcutter, the cuttings were then raked up. We experimented with different tools and found that 2 and 4 pronged pitchforks were the most effective tools to use and allowed us to remove not just the freshly cut material but also older stuff that was clogging up the beds. Doing this we could create more areas of free flowing water than we could with spring rakes. Ideally the cut material should be burned but as we’re not allowed to burn on Doffcocker Lodge we piled up everything along fences, this isn’t the best solution as this material could make it’s way back into the cleared area. Removal from the site would be a preferred option, but that’s something we’ll have to look at next time.

So, there you go, 2021 reaped and harvested, thanks to everyone for turning out before Xmas wearing Santa hats and also on Boxing Day while still full of Christmas cheer. Happy New Year and see you in 2022.

Parting The Waters at Moses Gate

23rd May 2021 – Moses Gate Country Park, Reedbed Management

(Text and photos updated 31st May 2021)

Reedbeds are a disappearing habitat in the UK, there are only 900 sites around the country and only around 50 are greater than 20 hectares. Many reedbeds have been lost to agriculture either through drainage or pollution, and climate change is now posing a threat to coastal sites as sea levels rise. But all is not lost, there has been a resurgence of interest in reedbeds in recent years as sources of biofuel, water treatment, and as an alternative source of compost.

Reed Bunting
Reed Bunting

BCV has been planting reedbeds since its early years, and for us it’s about wildlife. Reedbeds can support over 700 species from invertebrates to bittern, many of these species can be found nowhere else and are dependent on reedbeds for their survival. While urban environments don’t make ideal sites for large reedbeds small ones can still be very valuable to birds such as reed warbler and reed bunting.

23rd May – Today’s task was to continue the work started last year when we diverted a stream to re-wet an area to the north of the park, see the Hidden in the Reeds post for more info. Before we can plant any reeds we first need to create an area of open water, this we did by clearing the willow and creating a dam. The line of the dam was marked out by stakes and tree trunks, other trunks were cut into logs and driven down into the mud to create a palisade, gaps were filled in with mud. Once the dam was built we dug a channel to redirect the pooled water to another area. It was a bit of a learning experience and we were making it up as we went along but it turned out to be pretty effective. Additional dams will be needed to further manage water levels, then we can start planting. More info on creating phragmites reedbeds can be found in the download below (click the link to view or button to download), photos of today’s work can be found below that. Today’s task was funded by Bolton Council’s Climate Change Fund.

30th May – A week later we returned to the reedbed. The dam was still working, although the overall water levels has dropped a bit it was still retaining water as planned. The next step was to establish the reedbed itself. After moving some of the previous week’s brash out of the way we tried 2 techniques of reedbed creation. The first was to dig up some of the reed’s rhizomes from another area and plant them in the soft mud behind the dam. This is usually the most successful way of creating a new reedbed. The second technique was to use cuttings which we gathered from an established reedbed and push them into the mud. Although a bit early in the year for trying this it was worth a try, if the weather stays warm it has a good chance of working. More info on reedbed creation can be found in the download further down the page.

So now we wait to see what happens. Well done to everyone involved. The day’s photos have been added to the gallery below.

In another area of Moses Gate another team was working with Banana Enterprises on a different project, more about this will appear in a separate post shortly.

Moses (Gate) Hidden in the Reeds

Moses Gate Country Park, Reedbed Management, 23rd August

Phragmites australis, or common reed, reedbeds are a declining habitat, this is a shame as they support over 700 species of invertebrate, at least 6 red listed bird species, 4 reedbed dependent bird species, as well as amphibians, fish and the several mammals. They are hugely important for maintaining water quality and can also provide some degree of flood defence. The pressures created by land drainage, water abstraction and poor management are just a few of the reason why many reedbeds have been lost. If they are lost then we also lose the species that depend on them.

Reed Bunting
Reed Bunting
Reed Warbler
Reed Warbler

Many thanks to John Loder for the reed warbler photo.

Samuel Crompton’s old workshop became the promised land of reedbeds thanks to BCV. Over the last couple of decades we have planted reeds at different points around Crompton Lodges. Starting from a few square metres the reeds have expanded and spread to cover a large portion of the top lodge. But it isn’t enough, we want more. We have the space but there’s not enough water, so, what can we do to fix it?

With the permission of Bolton Council, the plan is to alter the flow of a small stream running into the candidate area by digging ditches across the site to re-wet the not-so-wet swamp. We will also need to do some planting, the good thing is that planting new reedbeds is fairly straight forward, read BCV’s own guide by clicking the button below.

Some of our soggy six believe this was the wettest task ever, but I can remember tasks at Blackleach, Cox Green, Wigan Flashes and several Anderton weekends which were at least as bad. Not to mention last year’s Bolton to Darwen walk.

So, what did our mud monkeys do? Around the perimeter of the site there’s a ditch that intercepts water entering the proposed reedbed which isn’t ideal as we want more water not less. The plan was to cut irrigation channels and allow more water to access the reedbed area from the ditch. Using a digger would have been more convenient but volunteers are easier to replace when they get damaged. Well done to all on an impressive piece of digging.

Photos: 23rd August – Tom Bruce/Francis Williams