When the short, cold days of winter set in and the natural world enters its dormant season, we can take the opportunity to concentrate on conservation work not possible during in the busy summer months.
Last week we spent some time managing the scrub at Sandymouth through controlled burning, a technique traditionally known as swailing. Fire is a natural feature of grassland ecology, playing a crucial role in the recycling of nutrients and the decomposition of woody material and can be a useful management tool to control habitat succession.
At Sandymouth the scrub coverage, dominated by Gorse Ulex europaeus and Blackthorn Prunus spinosa, overgrows and suppresses the maritime grassland, a habitat of European conservation significance and home to diverse floral communities. The use of swailing, along with other management techniques, opens up the dense scrub allowing grazers to range more widely across the landscape. The activity of grazers curtails the growth of dominant scrub species and allows the re-establishment of grassland species.
Swailing requires careful observation of the winds. Wind direction influences the direction of the burn, while wind strength is also an important consideration; too strong and the fire can get out of control, too gentle and the fire won’t draw enough to produce an effective burn.
We will be back swailing at Sandymouth later in the season.