©BSNHS 2014

As winter draws to a close and spring is on the horizon, the mild weather we have experienced since October has been replaced by a persistent cold northerly wind with sharp night frosts and sleet, hail and even snow showers during the day. Thankfully, the snow has not yet been heavy enough to settle here but it is a reminder that we can still get wintry weather at this time of year.

Sawbridgeworth Marsh

View from the Marsh - March 2016

Andy Sapsford Reserve Warden

Marsh in Oct

Raking up the cut sedge

Marsh in Nov

Some earlier views from the marsh

Marsh in DecMarsh in JanMarsh in Feb

A trailcam was placed at the site where there were suspected signs of water vole activity last month, hoping to capture footage of a long lost relic population of these rare rodents. Unfortunately, the only footage captured was of young brown rats. It seems that one rodent's droppings are much like another's! Perhaps we will need to go through a reintroduction programme after all, if we are lucky enough to be considered.

The winter work is almost complete. Normally, at this time of year there are ditches to be cleared of invasive branched bur-reed and then slubbed out of any sediment that has accumulated over the 5 year period since it was last cleaned. Thanks to the ditch restoration work carried out last summer, however, we don't need to do this job this year. Indeed, now that the ditches are wider and deeper than they used to be, it is quite difficult to see how we will be able to clean them out by hand in the future.

By March, reed buntings are starting to come back onto the marsh after a winter spent away, mostly foraging at the bird tables of Sawbridgeworth judging by reports of buntings being seen regularly in people's gardens. As they begin to set up territories on the sedgebeds and in the reedbed, there is a potential conflict with our wishing to cut areas of sedge. Today, we noticed a pair of reed buntings quite near to where we were cutting, with the male singing its monotonous song from a stand of reed bordering the sedgebed. As we had noticed the birds, we decided not to continue cutting in this area and moved to a new area to continue work.

Overall, there is no real conflict as the total area mown each year is only a small proportion of the habitat available and numbers of buntings seem to be holding up. We are, in any case, restricted in the amount of cutting we are now allowed to do. Natural England would prefer to have the area grazed by Konik ponies or Highland cattle and are not keen on our making heaps of cut sedge to rot down. The debate about this rolls on.

Cutting the sedgebeds

The only other task is the rotational cutting of sedge bed plots on North Mead. Plots have been cut in the late winter / early spring for many years now with two main purposes.

Firstly, the cut sedge plots provide open foraging areas for snipe. Although we sadly no longer have nesting snipe of the reserve, we do still see small numbers as winter visitors. Recently, up to 8 were seen feeding on the top field (Rush Mead) where the cattle graze during the summer. Snipe also make good use of the cut sedge plots when these are available.

The second reason for managing the sedgebeds is that uncut stands of sedge tend to become rather monocultural, with greater and lesser pond sedge dominant and, as the bed starts to dry out with accumulated litter, great willowherb. Through cutting the beds for many years, the smaller herbs such as water figwort, lesser water parsnip and fen bedstraw are given light to compete and the sedgebeds have become much more botanically diverse. In addition, great willowherb has virtually disappeared from those areas that are cut over quite regularly, as it is very intolerant of both cutting and grazing and tends to be associated with rank, unmanaged land.