©BSNHS 2014

The weather continues to be mild, windy and often wet - most unusual for the turn of the year, when the weather often gets much colder following Christmas. Despite losing a number of work sessions to the bad weather, the tree work is continuing on the marsh. Most of the season's pollarding has now been completed, with two groups of willows recut, one in Little Valet Homes and the other on the riverbank. A small number of willows have also been cut as coppice stools along the river boundary. A number of these were planted back in the early 1990s to provide cover for small birds, such as warblers and finches, and also to screen the reserve off from the river. They have been coppiced every other year since planting to prevent them growing too large.

Sawbridgeworth Marsh

View from the Marsh - January 2016

Andy Sapsford Reserve Warden

Marsh in Oct

View across reed beds

Marsh in Nov

Some earlier views from the marsh

Marsh in Dec

A small osier bed was also established in Great Valet Homes in 1994, consisting of three different varieties of Osier with different coloured bark. The young shoots can be used for decorative basketry work if required and the individual stools were planted close together at the time to force the shoots to grow straight so that they could be used in this way. We have not maintained the osier bed through regular cutting however, and the bed tends to be cut only when the regrowth gets too large.

As a result of the continuing mild weather, there are still few winter visitors on the marsh, with only small numbers of redwings and fieldfares flying overhead and the occasional woodcock and snipe flushed from cover.

There have been reports elsewhere of unusually large numbers of both goldcrests and siskins entering the country from Scandinavia during the autumn. A few of these may have reached the marsh, as a small flock of about a dozen siskins have been seen on at least two occasions feeding in the large alder trees along the riverbank. When I first saw the siskins, there were also a pair of goldcrests and a treecreeper in the vicinity, which brightened up an otherwise almost birdless visit.

Apart from the ever-present wood pigeons, there was scarcely anything else present in the whole reserve. I hope it is just the mild weather that is to blame!

Osier beds after cutting

Aside from willow cutting, the other main task in January is to cut one quarter of the reedbed at the northern end of the marsh. This is normally cut either with the reciprocating bar mower or with a brushcutter and the arisings burnt. The dead litter at the base of the plot is raked out and either burnt or stacked on the pathways to build them up.

This management allows the reed to regrow thickly, although the reed stems themselves have never been of commercial quality, probably because there is insufficient control over the water levels.

By cutting only a quarter of the bed in any one year, sufficient uncut vegetation is left for roosting birds, such as meadow pipits and reed buntings, to use. The reedbed is also home to the water rail and we have occasionally in the past seen a rail come out of the reedbed when the bed was being cut and work its way along the rows of cut litter flicking the material about with its beak while searching for insects, totally oblivious of our presence only a short distance away.