This past winter the hard-working Moor Barton volunteers have tackled an area affectionately known as 'Gorse Alley'.
Gorse is a wonderful plant, providing cover for mammals and nest sites for birds whilst the yellow flowers add a brightness at all times of the year. It has a thirst for life and will expand and expand to the exclusion of other trees and plants. It can be seen as ‘invasive’ but it is just good at what it does!
Underneath and amongst the gorse covering the hillside rising above Gorse Alley are 1000s of planted native broadleaf trees. These trees have been so shaded out by the gorse that they are unable to thrive. Plus, the denseness of the gorse has made it a hard and prickly task when trying to remove the multitude of tree guards that are a legacy from the planting, almost a decade ago. A lot of the gorse had grown leggy and tall with spindly crowns and was not providing the nesting opportunities as a shrubbier gorse bush would.
As part of a Countryside Stewardship Scheme with Natural England we were granted funding to clear back the gorse - 4 acres in all! Luckily for us the intrepid Angus cajoled, enthused and lead, by brush cutting example, over many weekends. Volunteers aged from 11 years old upwards including Angus's mum and dad helped us to complete the mammoth task of fulfilling our Stewardship obligations. Huge thank you to everyone who came and helped.
Rather than burning or flailing with a tractor we cut it by hand then created big brash piles that were heaved into place by all the wonderful helpers. These brash piles provide an element of habitat structure at Moor Barton, allowing numerous nesting opportunities for the many bird species – Blackcap, Wren, Robin and Blackbird to name a few. The piles will also provide space for mammals to rest, reptiles to bask and add an element of protection to the planted trees from the many deer that call Moor Barton their home. It seems extreme but this work will let the planted trees get away and grow taller for a few years before it grows back into a wonderful understorey that will provide more nesting habitat. In the future, Dartmoor ponies will nibble bits back and we humans can coppice it on a rotation acting as another ecosystem engineers. While working we created more open conditions, scuffing the ground with our feet as we worked. Next year the ground should be a riot of pink and purple foxgloves to compliment the yellow of the gorse and it will be fascinating to see what other plants grow up.
All the volunteers came away happy, scratched, itching from dead gorse needles, and glowing with a knowledge and satisfaction from being a participant in a rich and complex landscape.