Thanks to the Emergency Authorisation for the use of Asulam, helicopters are flying again on the hills opposite the Chayne. They made a great impact on the hill opposite my house last year, and looking at the areas which haven’t regrown this summer, it’s hard to argue with Asulox as a control measure. Long straight lines mark the flightpath of the helicopter, and even the areas which were sprayed by tractors on more level ground are showing huge signs of improvement. There are persistent whisps of fresh growth here and there, but on the whole, the hillside is looking great. Thanks to the selective nature of the spray, violets, harebells and grasses have been totally untouched, and the hillside seems oddly unbalanced by the sheer quantity of dead vegetation lying strewn amongst healthy hawthorns, rowans and willows which are all thriving in the sunshine. In a year or two when subsequent treatments have knocked the bottom out of the bracken altogether and it has broken down to be replaced by grass or heather, the place will look a great deal more natural.
Fortunately for me, bracken is not a huge problem on the Chayne. I do spray it with a knapsack sprayer every now and again, but it is largely confined to a small island of good ground in a wet boggy area. Bracken is notoriously reluctant to get its feet wet, so while I knock it back every now and again, it isn’t able to cross the moat of sphagnum and make a nuisance of itself on the hill. Besides, for all it is not a big area, I am planting birch trees in it which in due course will help to shade it out and keep it under control.
It is interesting that in the aftermath of bracken spraying there are immediate wildlife benefits. Butterflies love the fresh regeneration once the thick canopy is broken up, and the dead litter provides great cover for rare species like fritillaries to lay their eggs. Conservationists worry that as the bracken litter breaks down after spraying and is succeeded by other species it becomes less useful to butterflies, but given that dense stands of bracken are more or less useless to everything except foxes, the advantages of control clearly outweigh the concerns. Walking up through the dead bracken last week, I was amazed by the quantity and variety of butterflies getting up all around me. Some were familiar commas and heaths, but there were pearl bordered and dark green fritillaries coasting through the sunny grass with an air of determination. It was interesting to see that the fritillaries frequently landed, scuttling off on foot into the thick undergrowth to lay their eggs, before rising up and hunting on with all the focus and single-mindedness of a working spaniel. It often seems like butterflies drift blandly wherever the wind takes them, but these beasties knew what they were doing and were being quite systematic.
There will be more hurdles to cross if Asulam is to be granted another Emergency Authorisation for 2014. Bound in a bureaucratic tangle, the situation is pretty daft. With any luck, the ban on Asulam will be overturned as soon as possible, since it is difficult to imagine a more suitable, hastle-free control mechanism for large areas of rank bracken.