On Tuesday the 31st of July Natural England and the Woodland Trust joined forces with 41 Scouts from the 77th, 90th and 167th Bristol Scout Troops and Steama Explorer Scout unit, for a day of conservation activities in Pullabrook Wood. The Explorers teamed up with East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve manager Albert Knott, to survey lichens along some of the woodland’s ancient boundaries. The other two groups teamed up with Jim White, from the Woodland Trust and the Natural England Conservation Assistant team to target stands of Himalayan balsam, overgrown bracken and conifer saplings.
A notified feature of East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve is the lichen assemblage. Survey and management work is currently under way to encourage lichens along some of our ancient boundaries in the woods. The Explorer Scouts spent the day conducting these important lichen surveys, which not only taught them a useful conservation skill, but as Scout Leader Paul Brummit identified, it also proved to be a “good opportunity to find out about the jobs and opportunities that exist within the conservation sector.”
Scouts learnt the methods used to undertake a lichen survey – a recording sheet and one of the old boundary trees they found along the old wood banks in the reserve
Restoration work is currently underway in Pullabrook Wood in an effort to restore the woodland’s native broadleaf composition. An important part of the restoration process is the selective removal of conifer trees both big and small. Allied with Jim, the Scouts spent a productive morning pulling the many conifer seedlings that scatter the forest floor, in a concerted effort to slow down conifer regeneration.
A particularly important and on-going task for staff on the reserve is to keep on top of the spread of Himalayan balsam. The plant multiplies at an incredible rate, with pods that pop open, flinging seeds across a wide area. Its dispersal is so successful it can spread far beyond the nature reserve, on people’s clothing and on animals but most notably in watercourses, so you will often see this tall herb lining the banks of rivers.
Whilst the flower is pleasing to the eye and favoured by bees and other insects, its pervasiveness can be a real problem. Other plants native to the reserve need pollinating and the shade of its many leaves create bare ground underneath, where grasses and saplings once flourished. Fortunately, balsam removal is straightforward as it is tall and distinctive with shallow roots and we were very lucky to have a large group of scouts that have made many hours of work for the staff much shorter.
Over the course of a morning, we cleared large sweeps of it from the edge of the field where they were camping and they showed great enthusiasm and attentiveness to the task. It allowed the Scouts to learn about some of the practical management work on the reserve and understand the importance of maintaining a balanced ecosystem. After just a couple of hours it was easy for the group to see the results of their hard work, as large areas of the field became exposed to light once again. At the end of the task it was just the simple job of gathering up the piles of balsam and putting them on the back of a pick-up truck ready to be transported off site. The plant was then piled up off the ground and dried to prevent seeding. We’re incredibly grateful for their help and it really is amazing what can be done with a few more pairs of hands!
The final job of the day was ‘bracken bashing’ in Pullabrook Meadow. Without intervention the prolific spread of bracken can reduce the space and light needed for other native flora growing in the meadow. One management technique is to ‘bash’ the bracken with bamboo canes which bruises the new shoots and slows growth. The scouts took to the task enthusiastically and by the end of the afternoon all of the bracken covering the meadow was half its original height. Staff on the reserve are hoping that the bashing and clearance carried out by the Scouts has opened up enough space in the meadow for our herd of Dartmoor ponies to come in and continue to keep the bracken under control.
The conservation day with the Scouts turned out to be a great success, many hands made light work and some really important woodland management was carried out. Paul Brummit the Scout Leader stated that “it was an invaluable experience for the Scouts to understand and get involved in the maintenance of a local woodland. It also helped them appreciate what is being done to maintain it for future generations.” All of us here at East Dartmoor are very grateful to the Scouts and their leaders for all their hard work and we hope we can work together again someday in the future!
Written by James Lawrence-King, Conservation Assistant, Natural England