On a sunny day in September, Gatwick Greenspace Officer, Tom Simpson was able to lead a socially distanced group scything in Upper Pickets Wood. The Gatwick Greenspace Partnership manage an area of large, open grassland glade there called Goat Meadow.
The working party included: two Volunteer Reserve Managers, Chris and Harry, forest school leader Jo, as well as Land Management Trainees, Steph and Tirzah.
As a former greyhound racing track, the site has nutrient-rich imported soils and so can become dominated by rank vegetation, such as Agrimony, Dock and Fleabane. Though all of these plants have a place within the habitat, the idea is to encourage as much structural and species diversity as possible.
This is done by 'cutting' three times a year to stop certain plants becoming dominant and allow seasonal flowers to come through.
Cutting with scythes creates a patch mosaic, with some areas left rough and longer than others and, in this way, volunteers emulate the work of a herd of browsing animals moving through. Thicker 'bush' blades can be used to cut through saplings and manage scrub regrowth - much like cattle.
Finally, all of the cuttings are raked up - with the resulting piles of decaying vegetation creating ideal Grass Snake egg-laying sites.
Grass Snake by Bob Eade
What this means is, in the newly opened up areas of this meadow, Field Scabious, Trefoils and Vetches show through, Common Blue and Small Copper butterflies inhabit the sunny, open spots and Wasp Spiders can be found hunting amongst the longer grasses.
Small Copper by Mark Monk-Terry
For more information about current opportunities to safely volunteer with us, see here.