Rush Control Trials for farming, biodiversity and run-off reduction

Background

The West Pennine Moors (WPM) Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) includes a significant proportion (roughly 20%) of in-bye and allotment farmland. Local farmers and ecologists report that much of the in-bye farmland has deteriorated significantly in quality since 1980s, where areas have become dominated by Juncus effusus (soft rush).

Infestation with soft rush causes of problems such as:

  • Loss of quality grazing land for local farms and landowners
  • Loss of habitat for key wader species (such as lapwing, curlew and redshank that use in-bye farmland for breeding and feeding)
  • Soil changes and the way water can move through it. Changes in farming practice have led to changes in soil chemistry and soil health which favour soft rush. Acidification of in-bye soils means grasses are less competitive and the ground provides a less hospitable environment for soil fauna. Compaction of the upper layers of the soil means that water tends to pool on the surface or flow over the surface rather than filtering into and through the soil.

What we are doing

Trialling best practice and innovative approaches to rush control, the project aims to achieve:

  • A reduction in soft rush across the fields within the trial
  • An increase in learning about low-effort but effective rush control, with a focus on farmer experience
  • An increase in the number of waders using the in-bye fields treated through the rush control trials
  • More balanced soil pH and healthier soil horizons that favour grass growth improving the quality of the in-bye pastures. The project is also likely to contribute towards reducing run off from in-bye fields into neighbouring watercourses and waterbodies, thus delaying peak flows, as well as improving water quality by increasing infiltration of water into the pasture soils.

To deliver the project, effective rush control interventions will be carried out by two local farming families as part of a monitored experiment:

  • Best practice rush control using standard farming interventions on all fields in the trial – this includes a mix of appropriately timed cutting, baling and removal of cut rush where appropriate, and weed-wiping of sward following cutting
  • Additional intervention on a single field in the trial – the application of lime to re-balance the acidity, neutralise the soil pH and encourage grass growth
  • Additional intervention on a single field in the trial – the use of an aerator to reconnect the soil horizons and improve water infiltration in the sward
  • Additional interventions on a single field in the trial – the combination of both liming and aeration to both re-balance the pH and to reduce compaction

Who is involved?

Natural England, local landowners and farmers

Location

West Pennine Moors SSSI, north of Greater Manchester

Latest update:

The trial rush control project is now complete – the detailed project report is available on request via karen.rogers@naturalengland.org.uk

Natural England involved in a soft-rush related research project with the University of Lancaster to demonstrate the spread of the plant in pasture land – more information and a link to the research paper can be found here (opens in new tab)

Rush control advisory leaflet has been produced in conjunction with United Utilities (the major landowner), and is available for use with land managers and farmers (opens in new tab)

Rush control work is ongoing in the local area.

The latest news from our rush management trials – Natural Course

Rush cover baseline surveys completed, including soil samples for fields receiving lime.

Best practise rush control (cutting, removal and weed-wiping) started.

Implementation of trial interventions (lime, aeration, combined lime and aeration)

Statistical analysis of data underway