Patch Mowing Rushes In The Turbine Field

We’re developing a new strategy to keep rushes under control on Lower Newland Moor, at Wheatland Farm, and monitoring progress with drone images.

It was only a few years ago that we got help from the Devon Wildlife Trust in managing back the rushes in the turbine field with weedkiller. It worked well, but we hate using pesticides, and it hasn’t lasted all that long. So we need a different approach. Unlike Popehouse Moor, the field isn’t too tussocky, so last year we decided we’d experiment with the brush cutter mower we bought in March. (It has already proved useful and powerful in its first season, eg letting us help manage the grass at Winkleigh’s community trees project). The turbine field will still be grazed in summer, we hope, but in addition we’ll ‘patch mow’.

We started these patches last spring, left them over winter, and have recently given them a spring topping before the main flower growing season takes hold. The brush cutter cuts ‘high’ anyway, so it’s not a close crop.

Traditionally, rush would have been managed by cutting. And ideally, we’d be removing the cuttings too. They are rich in nutrients and wild flowers compete better with grass when the soil is poor. But we simply don’t have the people power or the machinery to ‘cut and cart’. Last time we cut and tried to remove rush it took a full week of raking into piles, and we still had to burn those, so although nutrients weren’t spread everywhere, they weren’t removed either.

It can be really hard to judge how much the soft rush is taking hold, especially when you are looking at it from ground level. But this year we bought a drone to help us with management (and to take marketing shots for the eco lodges). Already it’s proving instructive.

The main image with this post shows the field, Lower Newland Moor, with the patches cut. Near the bottom of the picture you can see clearly the circles in the most dense rushes, which have expanded out from the patch we left back in 2017. There are also other fainter circles further out. We want to stop the rushes taking hold across the whole field again. Of course, there’s a balance to be struck. The wetter densely rushy part of the field also has the best flowers, as confirmed in a June survey 2 years ago. We certainly don’t want to mow so hard we go back to just grass. So here, we’ll have to move the patches gently, probably over several years. And that’s where reference imagery, like this, really comes in.

Lower Newland Moor isn’t the only field we manage in patches either, so here’s an aerial shot of the main lodge field, in April 2021, showing a variety of grass heights. You can see Honeysuckle Lodge at the top of the image, Nuthatch Lodge below that, and finally Beech Lodge with its hot tub. The image itself shows the paths, the patches, the badminton area, and the campfire site (left hand side). The next image is a shot of the field in front of Balebarn Eco Lodge. Perhaps we’ll put together a series of monthly pictures showing aerial shots across the farm.

Aerial image of the lodge field at Wheatland Farm's Devon Eco Lodges