After seven hours raking on monday, my back is just about ok now. I had asked the Council to come and do a partial early cut of Maumbury Rings. And they did. As they haven’t managed to commit themselves (yet) to the raking, I do it. I think it must be 10 years this year since I started working with Dorchester Town Council on restoring the grassland at this magical tiny open space, which I’ve written about before. I must have raked about a tonne of hay off the slopes. It’s a pity it doesn’t go to a good home; if you know anyone who would like it let me know. I think it just gets taken to the green waste tip and is composted.
I didn’t manage to do all of the area that the Council had mown, but certainly most of it and far more than I have achieved before. I enjoy raking, there’s a great sense of satisfaction to seeing a large area clear of mown hay; especially when you get a really long row of hay and manage to roll it down the slope more or less in one go. The mowing and raking also reveal what’s been left underneath. In this case, it was mostly beer bottles, but also a few nitrous oxide canisters and lots of little empty plastic bags. It’s clear the Rings get used for hedonistic activities by the local teenagers. To be honest I’d rather be finding these things than dog poo. And I was struck by how little of that there was under the grass. Perhaps dogs don’t like pooing in long grass?
Some might think mowing in early June is too early, but it’s just the time when hay would have been cut in the past. I think too often places managed as meadows get cut too late these days, as people think that the flowers should be left to go to seed. By leaving the grass to grow on, what happens is that the vigorous grasses get through their life cycle and are better prepared for the following year, both in terms of seed production but also by storing energy produced from their leaves. By cutting earlier, you knock back the vigorous grasses, by removing both the seed source and also taking off leaves that are still photosynthesising.
This photo shows an area which had not been cut or raked until a couple of years ago. It was dominated by the coarse grasses Cock’-foot and False oat-grass. Now it’s had a couple of years cutting and raking, it’s transformed. Flowers such as Salad burnet and Ribwort plantain are really common now, while Bird’s-foot trefoil and Red clover (loved by bees) are spreading through the sward. A patch of hedge bedstraw is also quickly increasing. I expect other things to appear soon, colonising in from the tiny patch of very rich downland sward that is next to this area. The grasses are changing too, as those that thrive without management are replaced by others – I have even seen a patch of Upright Brome which I have not seen on the Rings before.
I was also delighted to see that yellow-rattle continues to flower on another part of the Rings. This area is one of the surviving remnants of downland and includes Quaking grass as well as other downland grasses like Yellow oat-grass, Meadow oat-grass and Downy oat-grass. We introduced the yellow-rattle about five years ago as an experiment to see whether it would help reduce the vigour of the coarse grasses. But the sward was too closed and there wasnt enough bare ground for it to really take off. Still, it’s nice to see its still there doing its bit. Yellow-rattle is a surprisingly influential species to have in a grassland. By parasitising coarse grasses, it has a highly beneficial effect on invertebrates groups, including predators. If you’re going to add any plants to your roadside verge – add yellow-rattle, not garden Daffodils!
I’ve decided this year that the whole of the grassland at the Rings will get mown in about a month’s time. I had been leaving the most flowery bits until September previously, but once the summer holidays arrive, the local teenagers make good use of the Rings and inevitably the tall flowers get squashed as desire-way paths are created through the long vegetation.
I’ll hopefully get a team of rakers together this time. So if anyone wants to join me I’ll be raking the grass on Saturday the 11th July.