Most of the management tasks on the marsh take place during the winter months, October through to March. One of these is to pollard some of the Crack Willows. The reserve has a large number of these. In order to prevent the branches becoming too long and heavy, with the result that the stock of the tree splits and falls over in strong winds, groups of these willows are recut every five years. By cutting some, but not all, in any 1 year, willows can be seen at various stages of regrowth around the marsh.
Pollarding entails cutting the tree at a height above the ground. Originally, pollarding was carried out in areas where stock were also grazed and cutting at height prevented the animals from browsing the new regrowth. It is, however, difficult and hazardous work and pollarding of most tree species ceased in the early 19th Century. Crack Willows are the notable exception to this and may still commonly be found alongside rivers and fen drains. Three bollings, as the cut trunks are known, were pollarded alongside the backwater over the last couple of weekends. The harvested poles will be used to repair some of the footpaths in the centre of the reserve. By cutting them into short sections and burying them into the peat, the heavily poached paths stabilise and eventually grass grows over the top, hiding the willow poles from view.
New pollards may also be easily started by pushing the poles into the wet ground, where they strike readily. This has been done in Little Valet Homes, where lines of old Crack Willow pollards line a network of old drainage ditches – one of the special landscape features of the reserve. New pollards have been started in the gaps created by the decay and death of a few of the older trees.
A new pond was dug on Little Valet Homes meadow in August. This small meadow was botanically poor, the result of enrichment caused by the dumping of river dredgings in the 1960s. The sward was dominated by rank grasses, Dock, Nettle and Cow Parsley, despite much management effort over the years. A new wet meadow has been created in the next field, Great Valet Homes, on ground that is not enriched and it is hoped that species such as Lady’s Smock, Southern Marsh Orchid and Ragged Robin will eventually colonise this area.
Andrew Sapsford, Marsh Warden.