Posted: Wednesday 11th November 2015 by The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust

Rangers clearing Reed at Lower Moors ~ © BareFoot PhotographerRangers clearing Reed at Lower Moors ~ © BareFoot Photographer

When Scilly's Cottages were thatched and livestock more viable the reedbeds were "managed" as a matter of course and as a part of every day life. As years have moved on and people's living needs and habits have changed the reedbeds have been left to "go wild".

This has meant that the quality of the reedbeds has changed, and in many respects decreased, which can have all sorts of consequences not only for the reeds themselves but also for the creepy crawlies and furry and feathered critters that rely on them too.

This winter sees our Ranger Team on Lower and Higher Moors cutting back some of the reed (it can look quite drastic but don't worry it grows back quickly!) for an explanation as to why and a bit of the thinking behind it read on!

A bit of the history....

Within the islands reeds have traditionally been used for thatching and livestock bedding as well as in agriculture as a fuel for burning, grazing cattle or creating screens to shelter plants.  In recent times these practices have become less common or died out all together and as a result the management, which happened as a bi-product of human's finding a use for nature, ceased.

Between the 1970's and the late 1990's very little was done in terms of management of the reed beds on St Mary's and as a result they began to dry out and become overrun by willow and bramble

In 1999 the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust cut, raked and burnt areas of reed and rush which hadn't been touched for nearly 30 years, it was overrun with bramble and willow and was hard going; since that time small areas have been managed on an ad-hoc basis but a programme is now in place to manage larger areas on a 4 year rotational basis.  

This is what the Ranger Team are currently embarking on.  

Why are reedbeds so important? 

There are two main reedbeds on St Mary's, one at Lower Moors and the surrounding area and one at Higher Moors and the surrounding area. The Moors have areas of fresh and brackish water, as they both have exit points into the sea, where on spring high tides the seawater will make its way up the leats and into the Moors.

Reedbeds offer incredibly rich and diverse habitats for our invertebrates, plants, birds and mammals.  Due to their size and location our reedbeds in Scilly may not be home to such well known species as harvest mice, otters or bittern but it doesn't make them any less important.

They provide food, shelter and breeding grounds for some of our resident wildlife all year round and also for migrating wildlife at various points throughout the year; this is especially evident in September-October when visiting birdwatchers can be found negotiating the mud, trees, bridges, walkways and hides on the hunt for, often elusive, feathered beings amongst the reeds.   

Why manage the reedbeds?

As mentioned earlier until fairly recently our reedbeds were managed as a bi-product of their usefulness; without this type of management "succession" takes place whereby reedbeds gradually become more overgrown with scrub (i.e. bramble & bracken) and drier; as a result different plants grow (i.e. nettles and grasses) and if left reedbeds will eventually develop into woodland habitats.

In the short time that the Moors were "unmanaged" willow has become quite well established creating, in some places, pockets of quite dense woodland habitat.

In order to keep our reedbeds healthy, ensure our wetlands don't dry out and disappear and to offer our wildlife diversity of habitats large sections of the reeds will be cut on a rotational basis.

The reasoning behind rotational management is two-fold; firstly, to lessen the visual impact and secondly, to create even more diversity and habitat types.

By cutting the reed during the winter months, growth is encouraged and reed dominance is supported; this occurs as the soil is wetter and the reed has fewer plant species to compete with, as reed can survive in wetter soil.  By cutting the reed in sections on a rotational basis a degree of plant diversity is encouraged without allowing "succession" to take place.  

In recent days we have already had reported sightings of more snipe activity in the area and it is hoped that by restoring and maintaining this wetland habitat a more diverse range of birds, insects and other creatures will return and flourish.

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