Nature Reserves in Ballaugh
The Manx Wildlife Trust is a charity set up in 1973 with the aim of making the Island richer in wildlife. One of the ways in which it achieves this is through the management of its nature reserves.
There are presently 20 sites, covering 255 acres, which vary in size from just under an acre, to almost 70 acres. A variety of habitats are represented including sand-dune, wetland, moorland, woodland and wildflower rich meadows. The sites are scattered around the Island, although almost half are within three miles of Ballaugh. Four sites actually lie within the parish of Ballaugh and perhaps the best well-known of these is Close Sartfield.
Close Sartfield was acquired by the Trust in 1987. Most of the fields had been farmed up until the early 1980s but then received no management for three or four years. In this short time, scrub, mainly willow and gorse, had invaded many of the fields to varying degrees. Most of the fields were quite species poor. Work began on clearing scrub and returning some of the fields to open meadows whilst others were left to develop into curragh and woodland. Once the site had been fenced, grazing was introduced and the combination of a late summer cut for hay, followed by winter grazing with sheep, soon created flower rich meadows. This management regime continues to this day and Close Sartfield is well known for its wonderful display of orchids in June.
One of the biggest projects was the conversion of 5 acres of gorse into 5 acres of wildflower meadow. I am reliably informed that by 1989 the gorse was about 7ft high and occupied around 75% of the field. The gorse was flailed and the field rotovated and then over 100 round bales were brought to the field and unrolled. The bales were of green hay, the vegetation having been cut on the donor fields and baled almost immediately. The idea was that as the hay dried on our field, seeds would fall to the ground and provide wildflowers. The hay was turned on a number of occasions and then re-baled and the bales carted off site. This was a fairly new idea at the time and had only ever been tried on small experimental plots so everyone was quite surprised when it actually worked and worked so well. Very soon we had over 100 flowering plants including 6 species of orchid.
A boardwalk was constructed along the edge of one of the main orchid meadows which allows people who have difficulty walking or who are in wheelchairs the opportunity to see the wildflowers. Wheelchair access is possible down to a hide with views over a recently reinstated bog and up to the Ballaugh hills. Public access is permitted all year round from the car park to the hide. A path is created around the site in June and this is maintained until the hay is cut. There is an interpretation board on site and a leaflet giving further details about Close Sartfield is available from the Trust shop in Peel.
Close Umpson is the smallest of the Ballaugh sites at just under 2 acres and was purchased in 1995. The main interest at this site is a small fern called adder’s-tongue (see above) which appears in early spring but is soon hidden as other plants get going. Management of this site is fairly limited because it is so wet and inaccessible and this is one reason why the site is not open to the public.
Glen Dhoo will be known to many readers lying as it does up Ballaugh Glen. The site covers just over 24 acres some of which is tree covered but the majority is open upland meadows. However, most of these meadows have been encroached upon by bracken and gorse to varying degrees.
It is thought the tholtan was occupied until the late nineteenth century and the maps from this time show that most of the fields were arable. Since the Trust took over management the boundary of the reserve has been made stockproof and internal fencing has created two grazing blocks. The aim is to return the majority of the meadows to grassland by cutting the gorse down and grubbing out the roots: spraying and cutting bracken and using livestock to trample regrowth as well as graze.
Glen Dhoo has occupied a lot of time and effort but great progress has been made and the variety of wildflowers to be seen has increased greatly since management began.
The fourth site is Goshen, which at 42 acres is the second largest site managed by the Trust. The reserve is comprised of ten wildflower meadows and two areas of curragh/developing woodland. Seven of the meadows are managed by a late cut in the summer for hay, followed by autumn/winter grazing with sheep. They have a profusion of wildflowers in the summer including many orchids. Two of the meadows are cut for hay but are not grazed as this was the management already in place when the meadows were purchased. Management of the remaining meadow is undertaken by wallabies! Goshen is not open to the public.
By far the best way to see the reserves and learn about the work required to maintain them is to become a practical volunteer. Almost all the work on the reserves is undertaken by me and a fantastic band of volunteers (see Midweek Muckers) who come out every week throughout the year. For further information on becoming a volunteer please contact the Trust Office – 844432.
Part of my job as Reserves Officer is to write management plans for the reserves, outlining the interest of the site and how it will be managed. I am always very keen to learn about the past management of our sites and especially interested in any old photographs. If you think you may have some useful insights then please contact me at the Trust Office.
Tricia Sayle, Reserves Officer, Manx Wildlife Trust
Categorised as: Nature