Rush management in upland pastures - spraying, cutting, ploughing, draining

Friday 07 December 2012
Rush management in upland pastures - spraying, cutting, ploughing, draining

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.

Wet weather

Rush cutting

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:

 

Recommended Methods of Control:

 

Relative Costs

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

 

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. 

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