Tuesday 11 September 2012

The Tracmaster & vampire plant

Today in the meadows I got to use the Tracmaster.

It's a curious machine - it has a 'dead man' handle on it, so that when I let go it will stop instantly. There's a choke I have to pull to get it going, two levers - one is for the blades to move & cut or be still and the other is for the gears (1 neutral & 2). It has to be used at the lower gear otherwise the machine throttles itself to destruction, plus it hopefully gives wildlife the chance to get away in time. The 'scything' blade is wide at the front, one has to place the uncut grass where the middle of the nose of the machine is to make sure it goes over patches properly & doubly if necessary. It moves of it's own accord and there is a handle that you can pull and push for it to go forward & backwards to help with the manoeuvre of it. The steering of it is quite tricky, as you tend to work against the force of where it is going, and it vibrates into your hands in make them feel numb especially the left one.

Above is a great example of the contrast of an area that has too much nutrients and meadowland - on the left the grass is very green and of only one species. This might be because Christopher Lloyd used to burn bonfires there and the ashes enriched the soil. On the right hand side much more is happening.

It was really interesting that the area where we were cutting today was mainly Yellow Rattle (aka Rhinanthus minor or the 'vampire' plant) and gnat weed. A north facing slope has less diversity than a south facing one, and this one was facing north. Opposite it there is a slope that is facing south and that is where most of the rare orchids e.g. the spotted & greenwings are found. Rhinanthus minor is interesting in that it acts as a parasite to grass and keeps it low, this is great for the diversity of meadows as this encourages other plants to grow more. They are named so because of their dried seedheads rattle when you brush past them. They're an annual, have yellow hooded flowers, grows from 4 - 15 cm, seeds need to be scattered from September - early December and they like to be trampled in - which is fine as we walk over patches we have cut all the time. Bumblebees really like them.

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