Getting hands on with some Bracken Bruising

Recently we have bought a bracken bruiser.

Bracken was originally a woodland species but has expanded its range as it is very invasive and grows vigorously and tends outcompete other plants. Now it occurs in a wide range of habitats in the UK. It is becoming a noticeable threat to our wildflower meadows through its invasive nature.

There are a number of problems connected with bracken:

– It provides a haven for sheep and deer ticks which can cause disease in livestock and humans such as Lyme Disease – Bracken can reduce area available for grazing livestock
– At certain times of the year (late August to early Autumn), usually in hot years, bracken releases carcinogenic spores to livestock and may have may have a negative impact on human health
– It encroaches upon important wildlife habitats such as grasslands and heathlands

Bracken bruising usually takes place in July and August. It is a long -term grassland management programme which requires 3-10 years intervention by a mechanical roller and by hand using a stick to hit the bracken or with a plank on a piece of rope used to trample the bracken.

Some landowners use pesticides but our grasslands are managed with organic principles so we do not spray the bracken with a herbicide. Another reason we do not spray the bracken is because it kills the grass beneath it and it is very costly as there is an abundance of bracken on the estate.

Conservation Warden Mike demonstrates the Bracken Bruiser

Crushing and rolling is designed to bruise the bracken stalk. This causes bleeding to the stem and eventually weakens the underground root system (rhizomes).

Enter the Bracken Bruiser. This can be towed behind our ATV Gator (All-Terrain Vehicle). The machine has special rollers which are designed to crush the bracken and whipping the stems of bracken with thin metal rollers. This machine has helped considerably to manage our grasslands more easily and efficiently.

The machine makes light work of crushing the bracken and is less labour intensive trying to do it all of the bracken bruising by hand. Bruising the bracken by hand is very time consuming and hard work especially in the height of the summer surrounded by biting horse flies.

However, we still have to do certain areas by hand as the machine is not suitable for steep banks or on sensitive areas like archaeological sites. So during the months of July and August you may see the Dartington Conservation team undertaking the bracken bruising machine or by hand. This grassland management will help to preserve our wildflower meadows, our grasslands for grazing cattle and hopefully keep the numbers down and help prevent the spread of Lyme disease.

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