Bracken and Upland Management - An Alternative Solution.

Wednesday 12 August 2015
Bracken and Upland Management - An Alternative Solution.

The hills are alive! Not with the sound of music as Julie Andrews would have you believe, but with fast growing bracken. The scourge of most hill and upland farmers and land managers for many years is rapidly becoming out of control as its growing area increases year on year due, partly, to the change in climate. Bracken is now seen growing at higher mountain levels than even ten years ago and the difficulties associated with operating on bracken infested land, particularly the management of livestock and the difficulties faced by walkers and visitors, increase significantly as it spreads.


Steep ground presents dangerous conditions for tractors making effective bracken management virtually impossible.  There are few cost effective end uses for the material and the spiralling cost of chemicals and their application, coupled with the physical difficulties of accessing the crop with traditional machinery, deter farmers and land managers from trying to implement any methods of long term control.  As a result many areas are being left to the infestation thereby reducing available grazing land.


Oakland Biofuels Ltd has been looking at alternative uses for bracken for some years, primarily within the renewable energy sector.  A new technology will enable Oakland to make bioethanol from almost any form of cellulosic organic material.  Bracken has been tested for this process with excellent results which make it a good feed stock candidate.  The use of bracken in conjunction with new bioethanol technology will be a first for the UK and Europe and the first plant to use this unique combination is planned for Wales.  Under the terms of the 2020 Road Transport Renewable Fuel Obligation an increased percentage of our road fuel has to come from renewable sources. Biodiesel is being produced but there is practically no bioethanol being produced commercially in Europe.  Accordingly Wales will be seen as the location for a pioneering solution to two European wide problems – bracken management and ethanol production.


Oakland’s challenge has been to find suitable harvesting equipment to access the required quantities of bracken and we have had to look to Germany, Austria and Switzerland for a solution. Here, lightweight remote controlled machines are specially built to harvest grass and biomass from steep hillsides. This equipment won’t damage environmentally sensitive areas in the same way that tractors tend to and can also operate in wet and marshy conditions.  By working with farmers and land managers to manage the bracken, and other materials, we believe that we can help improve the long term sustainability of the hills.


In Wales, Oakland plans to make suitable arrangements with both farmers and land managers to cut bracken throughout the year when conditions allow. Initially this will be done purely to manage the material but when the bioethanol plant becomes operational we would transport the cut material to the roadside and bale/wrap it so that it can be temporarily stored in good condition before being transported for processing.  There would be no direct financial benefit from this activity but the indirect tangible financial benefits associated with bracken management will be obvious to all farmers.


However, purely from a land management point of view, the machines the project will import can be used solely by land managers to control and manage steep inaccessible areas as well as wetlands and water catchment areas.


With this in mind we are arranging a series of working demonstrations, in conjunction with the Brielmaier Company from Germany, of some of the machines at a number of UK locations so that farmers and land managers can see the benefits the equipment can offer. Please be aware that the demonstration sites are steep. Access to all sites should be ok for 4 x 4 vehicles. Visitors arriving by car to remote sites will be transported by alternative means to the demonstrations.

We plan to be demonstrating remote control bracken and gorse cutting equipment on most of the sites and all interested farmers and land managers are welcome to attend.


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