©BSNHS 2014

The weather is still unseasonably warm as November begins and it hardly seems like autumn, although the falling leaves and morning fogs show that it is late in the year. The first small flocks of redwings have been seen, another sign of the colder months ahead.

The last two cows were removed a fortnight ago and sent on to Thorley Wash. Once again, the small herd of Highlands has done a great job, with both Round Moors and Rush Mead grazed right down. The open areas created will be of benefit to wintering snipe and jack snipe, although so far few have been seen on the marsh this autumn.

Sawbridgeworth Marsh

View from the Marsh - November 2015

Andy Sapsford Reserve Warden

Marsh in Oct

Stacking willow logs after cutting

Some earlier views from the marsh

With the water vole - related habitat improvement works being carried out during the summer months, many of the normal winter tasks involving ponds and ditch work do not need to be carried out this year as they have effectively been done. We therefore have quite a bit more time to carry out other work. There is quite a lot of tree work to be done, and we normally do not complete all of this, so hopefully this year we will have the opportunity to catch up a bit.

In particular, many of the willow pollards in Little Valet Homes, which line the main channel through this area, are out of cutting rotation. In part, this is due to the major ditching and tree clearing works carried out in Valet Homes last year. It was felt that the additional disturbance involved in pollarding that year's allocation of trees was unnecessary, as enough trees had already been cut down. There are therefore quite a few sizeable willow pollards in Little Valet Homes particularly that require attention.

We try to recut the pollards every 5 - 6 years to prevent the poles becoming too big, which can split the tree down the stock in high winds. However, as well as growing outwards after each cut, the trees also grow upwards! Some pollards, where the regrowth was about shoulder height 10 - 15 years ago, are now often about 12 - 15 feet above ground level. This makes them difficult or impossible to cut safely with a normal chainsaw. This month, we have been trialling a battery operated pole-saw to deal with these tall pollards. Although still difficult work, the poles can at least be cut with this tool. However, the time will come when the trees grow out of reach of even the pole-saw. We have therefore taken the decision to let the tallest of these go when they become too high to cut safely. The poles will then grow big and eventually split the tree, but the holes and splits in the trunk created are very good habitat for nesting birds, epiphytic plants and insects.

Using the pole saw

Although many of the willows in Valet Homes look very old, the species is not actually very long lived in tree terms and they just take on this appearance of senility earlier than, say, an oak or an ash. They are also easy to propagate from cuttings and will strike readily from a branch pushed into wet mud. This is actually the normal way that willows propagate themselves as, although they produce copious amounts of white, fluffy seeds each spring, these are not usually very viable.

The water voles released at Thorley Wash have spread downstream to the main river, but so far there are no indications of their presence on the marsh. Meanwhile, we are keeping vigilant for signs of their main enemy, the American mink. This alien predator must be controlled effectively for the release to stand any real chance of long term success. Although there were signs of the presence of a mink, and also a polecat incidentally, there have been no signs since then despite our continued vigilance.