Rush management in upland pastures - spraying, cutting, ploughing, drainingFriday 07 December 2012
Many farmers, not just in Cumbria but across the North West, have noticed this year that rushes have established in fields where they have not been a problem in living memory.
And in areas where rushes have been established for some time, they have grown stronger, denser and spread further. This has made these areas less beneficial to wildlife and nesting birds. It has also made the land more inaccessible for grazing animals.
Whether the extreme wet weather of recent years is a factor, the response to demand from local farmers saw the Cumbria Farmer Network organise a meeting on the Management of Rushes in Upland Pastures with three speakers focusing on the management and control of rushes balanced against the environmental considerations and benefits of some rushes to Environmental Stewardship Schemes
Ian Cairns from SAC covered the different methods of control that farmers might use on land that is not within any of the Environmental Stewardship rush management options, (i.e. spraying, cutting, ploughing, draining). He covered the relative costs and how farmers might assess the likely benefits for them on a particular field.
Henry Conn from Natural England covered the rush management options within the Upland Entry Level Scheme and the Higher Level Scheme and the points and payments that they provide.
Paul Arkle from the Cumbria farm Environment Partnership, covered the kinds of decisions that farmers were making about which pieces of land to enter into which Environmental Stewardship options, including low input pasture management, which doesn’t pay as much as rush management but may allow more options for control.
Farmers at the meeting reported that the last four summers have been very wet in Cumbria. The level, scale and timing of rainfall on poorly drained land on the Pennines and Lake District Fells has made access to cutting up to a third of them in late August and September impossible for many, without causing irreparable damage to the soil.
In the presentations, we learned that each seed head sheds thousands of seeds and they survive for a long time in the soil, waiting for soil disturbance or wet conditions that allow the young plants to germinate and be more competitive than grass plants.
Key factors that tip the balance for the rushes over grass are:
- Low PH
- Too much winter kill, caused by excess Nitrogen application in autumn
- Too much slurry in winter
- No control of seed heads
Recommended Methods of Control:
- Hard grazing in summer, cattle are best at this
- Topping in summer (but removing the mulch is necessary, because if it comes wet, the slush limits grass growth and provides ideal conditions for rushes)
- Liming and use of slag
- Robust and competitive seed mixtures that are suited to the local conditions
- Spraying if appropriate (i.e. assuming not limited by a management scheme). Cutting and then spraying regrowth - ideally with weed wiper.
- There isn’t a spray that will not kill other plants as well as the rushes – so selective spraying or weed-wiping is necessary in permanent pasture. Spraying is only part of the control strategy and won’t get rid of rushes altogether.
- Glyphosate £28/ha, needs an adjuvant, included in estimated cost.
- 2,4D or MCPA £37/ha (better earlier in the season, so doesn’t affect clover so much). MCPA stays in the soil for three months.
- If weed-wiping, it’s best to do two passes at 90 degrees if possible.
- Topping £35-70/ha.
- Full plough and re-seed £125 – 150/ha.
Many farmers at the meeting reported that rushes were getting established in grass re-seeds and other fields where they have not been a problem in living memory.
In areas where rushes have been established for some time, they have been allowed to get stronger, grow more densely and spread further. This has made these areas less beneficial to wildlife and nesting birds. It has also made the land more inaccessible for grazing animals.
One comment which was made at the meeting by a farmer, and strongly endorsed by others, was that for the past two years the only time that was dry enough for tractors and mowers to travel onto up to a third of the rush land was in March.
Stewardship Scheme payments
- Points (up to a limit are converted to £s) for the Rush Management option in UELS are 60 points/ha. In this option, it must be maintained as a grass field, FYM can be used and spreading rushes can be spot treated with herbicide. One third of the body of rushes can be cut each year, but not between April and July.
- Points for the Rush Management option in HLS are 80 points/ ha, which can ideally be combined with cattle grazing to 120 points/ ha.
The Farmer Network is organising a meeting on Tuesday 11th December at 7.00pm at Mungrisdale Village Hall, looking at the management of rushes in upland pastures. Two meetings on the same topic took place last month at Alston and Lamplugh, but due to the high level of interest, this extra meeting is going ahead.
The event, which is being funded by the RDPE North West Livestock Programme, will provide farmers with the opportunity to weigh up the costs and benefits of rush control. The topic has been selected in response to comments from farmers about how rushes are increasing and even spreading into fields that did not have any in the past forty years. The recent wet summers, combined with ageing field drains and sometimes the limitations on cutting and cultivating that are required as part of the environmental stewardship agreements encourage the rushes. In many cases this is limiting livestock production and making it difficult to get a decent crop of silage or hay.
If your intersted in attending please contact Kate Gascoyne to attend Kate Gascoyne at The Farmer Network Tel 01768 881462 / 07548934282.
There are plans to do similar events and meetings on rushes in Lancashire.