Plant-Rich Future for Shapwick

‘Green hay’ technique aims to rebuild biodiversity

Green Hay
Green hay, being cut, left, and applied at Shapwick Moor, right

Restoration of Shapwick Moor – to the biologically diverse Somerset Levels habitat it once was – entered a new phase this summer, but it will take a hundred years to achieve complete success.

What was once intensive arable farmland is now being returned to species-rich grassland using a technique known as ‘green hay application’. This involved cutting grass from a neighbouring botanically-diverse organic site at the beginning of September and spreading it on Shapwick Moor before the vegetation dried out. The idea is that seeds taken in the ‘green hay’ from the donor site – Natural England’s Shapwick Heath Reserve – then fall and germinate on the Trust’s reserve.

Natural England botanist Steve Parker monitored the donor site to ensure the cut was taken at exactly the right time. “By next year we should see a much richer diversity of plant life, and we’ll carry out the same process on the rest of the formerly arable land,” said Trust conservation officer Chris Sperring.
Before the ‘green hay’ was applied, grass seeding, grazing and hay removal over the years since the Trust bought the land in 2007 gradually reversed the effects of fertilisers.

Yellow Rattle CollectionVolunteers, like the two pictured (right), have collected yellow rattle seeds to sow on the reserve to help with the reversion process. A parasitic plant, it feeds on grass roots, weakening the grass and leaving patches of bare ground where flowering plants can flourish.

About 20 volunteers from all the Trust’s South West local groups are also playing a big part in the process of recreating fenland habitat on part of the reserve that forms a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Trained and supervised by Steve Parker, they have been collecting seeds of rare wetland plants from a local site that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. This has meant almost weekly sessions because different seeds have ripened at different times.

Now the volunteers are growing the seeds on at home, ready to plant out as plug plants.

“This is a long-term project, as recreating an authentic fen habitat will take around 100 years,” said Chris. “As the botanical diversity increases on Shapwick Moor, so too will the overall biodiversity.

“We are at the stage where we can leave one field fallow on annual rotation to increase rough grassland for small mammals, and therefore hunting ground for owls and other birds of prey. We are also planning rough grassland margins across the site, once the arable reversal is complete. “

Watch video footage about the project by clicking the ‘play’ button below.

For more videos of the green hay project click here

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