Langholm Regeneration

Vertical flail hammers parked on regenerating heather

More on this will come soon, but just wanted to mention my day yesterday at the Heather Trust’s AGM meeting at the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project. The rushes on the Chayne have just been cut with a standard chain flail as they are every year (and more on this too, to come), but as part of an attempt to recover and repair the damage caused by a huge outbreak of heather beetle on Langholm, a vertical flail has been used to tremendous effect. We were shown various test patches of beetle damaged heather in different stages of recovery, but the most impressive by far were those which had been thrashed with the “hammer flail”.

It is emerging that the standard practice for seeding heather from scratch or bringing it back after a serious bout of heather beetle is to spray everything off with glyphosate in the summer, burn off the debris in the autumn, then sow it with heather seed. In just a few years, the fresh seed will combine with seed already in the soil to create a new heather dominated mixture without the threat of competition from damned blow grass, which people call molinia.

At Langholm, they’ve experimented along these lines by spraying heather plants affected by beetle with glyphosate, then smashing it to pieces with these vertical flail hammers (pictured above) instead of burning it. This avoids burning in areas when unreliable weather in the autumn might set you back and hold things up, and the effects are nothing short of fantastic. In the strips which had been sprayed, flailed and resown with seed, the heather was thick, vigorous and in fantastic condition.

It seems like the vertical action of the hammers really gets down into the debris left by spraying and mashes it up, and although I shudder to think what would happen if you were to hit a stone with one of them, they are clearly the tools for the job. Perhaps it’s not as good as burning in that the existing seeds aren’t cracked by the heat and the smoke of the fire, but if you’re spreading pre-treated seed at the same time, you don’t have to rely so heavily on natural regeneration from extant seed.

Anyway, more on this to come…


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