The start of March is an important date in our Volunteer Group’s calendar. It marks the start of the bird nesting season and is therefore the date when we stop all scrub clearing and hedge cutting. The removal of scrub on our valuable grassland sites is such a vital part of our work, that it tends to dominate the work programme for the whole winter. And this year, we cut, chopped, ripped out and burned more scrub than ever. Many of our sites will greatly benefit from this, including Darragh Island, Mid Island, Gibbs Island, Horse Island and Nugent’s Wood. We are very grateful to everyone who helped with these projects.
This week, we finished off our scrub cutting season on one of our favourite sites; Taggart Island.
Taggart Island is one of the larger National Trust Islands on the Western side of Strangford Lough, not far from Killyleagh. There are the remains of three old farm houses and we know from the 1831 census, that there were 23 people living on the island. By the 1851 census (after the famine years) the population had reduced to just one family of 6 and the other two farm houses had been deserted. Today, nobody lives on Taggart but the old farm buildings, kilns and wells make interesting features. This fascinating island was used for one of the locations for filming “December Bride”.
The northern end of Taggart Island has some good areas of species-rich grassland; a habitat that we are keen to expand. Unfortunately, like so many of our grassland sites, scrubby species such as gorse, blackthorn and bramble are slowly taking over the entire area. If left unchecked, these will out-compete the grassland meadow and reduce the biological value of the site.
Since this was our last week of scrub cutting for the year, the pressure was on to clear as much as possible. So we spent both Tuesday and Wednesday, with chainsaws and brushcutters roaring, cutting as much gorse and blackthorn as we could.
When most people think of National Trust Wardens wielding chainsaws, they usually conjure up a rather butch and masculine image. However, Heather has recently passed her chainsaw qualification and quickly shattered such stereotypes as she proved that the feminine touch is just as effective at obliterating scrub.
The cut branches were dragged to the fire site and burned.
To prevent the blackthorn from sprouting back next year, Emma painted a herbicide onto the stumps.
The herbicide will get drawn down to the roots and kill the blackthorn without harming any of the other plants around it.
Although all the cutting has finished for the year, there are still quite a few branches lying around. Birds won’t attempt to build nests in these so we can return during the next couple of weeks to tidy these up at a more leisurely pace. It will be very satisfying to stand back and see the results of our hard work.
With the scrub cutting season over for another year, we can look forward to the new challenges that the spring and summer will bring. And at least our hands and wrists will have time to recover from a long winter of scratches and splinters.