By Cris Sellarés
In December 2012, BIRDS ON THE EDGE submitted an application to the Countryside Enhancement Scheme (CES) to cover the costs of bracken clearance works in three areas of the north coast.
This application is part of the project’s main strategy of restoring coastal habitats such as heathland, gorseland and grassland which, properly managed, can provide prime breeding and feeding sites for many locally threatened birds from stonechats and whitethroats to puffins and fulmars.
In March, BIRDS ON THE EDGE was notified that the application had been successful, securing the contractor’s fee of £6,665 to carry out this year’s work. This grant only covers the costs of one year’s work and further funds will be needed to continue work for at least three further years. Bracken management does not yield immediate results; each area that needs management requires two annual passes, repeated each year for at least three years depending on many factors such as the local geology and climate.
The three areas that will be cleared are found on areas of National Trust for Jersey land along the coast between Sorel Point and Île Agois to the west. Together these sites represent an area of approximately 50 vergees. The work to be carried out at each site will take place in two separate periods of the year (at the end of spring and end of summer) and will involve a variety of techniques, from cutting, flailing and bruising to spraying and trampling (see bracken clearance) depending on each site’s terrain and state of the bracken.
Two of the sites are within the grazing area of the Manx Loaghtan sheep flock, so the exposed land will benefit from these animals’ trampling action and in turn the sheep will be able to reach new patches of suitable pastures beyond the bracken. Whilst the sheep are not really very keen on eating the bracken themselves, they do graze the grass swards beneath the thick fronds, encouraging the regeneration of natural grassland. Their hooves also trample the bracken’s new shoots, preventing the fern from coming back after it has been removed.
The areas of cleared bracken will be monitored to evaluate which techniques are most effective as well as to detect any changes on the wildlife in the vicinity, such as an increase on the invertebrates and thus on feeding opportunities of
nearby nesting birds such as stonechats, meadow pipits, Dartford warblers and common whitethroats. It is hoped that it won’t take long for the wildflowers, invertebrates and birds to find their way to the clearings that will be opened soon amongst the sea of bracken on our coastal cliffs.
All three managed sites are found within the boundaries of the North Coast Breeding Bird Survey which will provide information on the locally endangered birds and their breeding success in 2013.