Whackin’ Bracken

When bracken and heather collide, there's only going to be one outcome.

Having spent the whole of yesterday with a heavy knapsack sprayer on my back, I can honestly say that bracken control is not exactly a barrel of laughs. Lugging a leaky sixteen litre container full of Asulox over the hillside, spraying the crisp fronds of chest high bracken with a woefully small jet fitting feels like a thankless task, but the nature of this herbicidal chemical will mean that that voracious and expansive plant will take a real beating over the winter. Asulox appears to be absorbed through the leaves where it follows the receding sap down into the root system. From there, it works havoc on the plant and knocks hells bells out of it’s robust constitution. I’m no biochemist, but having seen Asulox used on bracken banks in the past, it’s obvious that this solution is a real asset to anyone with an interest in heather.

Bracken is only visibly alive for about four months of the year. The rest of the time, it lurks beneath a woody mat of dead leaf material that is almost impenetrable to all other vegetation. Bracken leaks fluids into the soil which inhibit the growth of other plants, and when it rushes into the sky in May and June, it smothers all surviving competitors to death. When bracken and heather grow in close proximity, heather doesn’t stand a chance. Without proper maintenance, pristine moorland can turn into a sea of bracken in no time at all, and by comparison to the massive biodiversity supported by a heather based ecosystem, bracken is a wasteland. Not only does bracken smother other plant life, but the dense bed of leaf litter it leaves is a dream come true for ticks and parasites.

Red grouse are very susceptible to louping ills caused by tick infestations, and these problems are compounded and magnified by bracken banks adjacent to open heather. Black grouse don’t seem to be able to catch louping ill, and young broods like spending time in bracken, but wherever there are ticks, there are problems. On the whole, bracken is bad news for wildlife, so when I set off onto the moor with a container of anti-bracken chemicals on my back, I felt like I was fighting the good fight. After eight hours, I had sprayed more than one hundred litres of the stuff, and I hope that my efforts will have halted the spread of this insidious weed as it began to approach the grouse moor.

Sadly, I won’t see the benefit of my work until next May, but having made a start on the Chayne’s healthy crop of bracken, I can keep an eye out for problem areas next year. I will admit that seeing a helicopter spraying thousands of litres of Asulox on Monday on the neighbouring estate, I did feel a little envious, but until I can afford to bring in a contractor, I need to deal with the problem with my own hands.

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