Habitat and access management
What practical tasks and on the ground management do the team and volunteers get up to through the seasons?
Although the Quantock Hills are a beautiful natural resource it can take a lot of hard work to keep them looking that way.
Promoted route checks and maintenance, woodland, scrub and grassland management, beach cleans.
Promoted route checks and maintenance
There are various promoted routes around the Quantock Hills (see our Walks page) during the spring the team check and maintain these routes. This may involve clearing plant growth to keep them open, repairing signs and waymarkers and ensuring gates and stiles are all in working order.
These beach cleans are carried out by our volunteer groups usually at Kilve or East Quantoxhead. As a group they record the quantities/types of rubbish found and then these results get fed into Marine Conservation Society national data.
Promoted route maintenance work continues, access sites checked and repairs made to tracks, gates, fences with some habitat management that can only occur during the summer.
Site checks and maintenance
During the summer months the team continue the maintenance works including clearing vegetation, repairing picnic tables and other furniture such as benches, repair and replace interpretation and waymarking signage and ensuring fences are secure.
While the majority of habitat management occurs in the autumn and winter some work, such as treatment of invasive species such as bracken or Rosebay Willow Herb can only occur in the summer. The team and volunteers undertake this work in late summer after the bird nesting season on sites such as Cothelstone Hill.
One of the main role of the team and Volunteer Rangers during the summer period is checking visitor sites, clearing litter and engaging with visitors by providing a helping hand or some useful information.
Autumn brings about the start of much of the physical land management work carried out by the team and volunteers. This include , coppicing and hedgelaying, scrub management by cutting and flailing or cutting rough grassland. It is also the time the team undertake audits of sites managed by Quantock Hills National Landscape especially tree audits.
Scrub cutting is carried out predominantly at Cothelstone Hill as part of the agri-environment scheme to open up the grassland for the grazing Exmoor ponies and for the grassland flora. This is carried out by the team, volunteers and sometimes contractors.
Coppicing is a traditional way of managing smaller tree species, such as hazel trees. In a coppiced wood, such as Cothelstone Hill, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down near ground level with the new growth being used for fencing stakes or bindings. When managed this way the age of a tree can be extended and the increased level of light on the woodland floor allows lots of woodland flowers and plants to thrive.
One of the Quantock's distinctive features is the beech hedgebanks and also the beautifully hedged farmland. Hedgerows have a massive visual and aesthetic effect on the landscape, but they also provide corridors of shelter and food for all sorts of birds and small mammals.
Woodland management, scrub management & swaling.
Woodland and Scrub management
The team and volunteers will be undertaking woodland and scrub management on land that they manage on behalf of other organisations such as Cothelstone Hill on behalf of South West Heritage Trust. The type of works continue from the autumn work programme and include coppicing or thinning of woodlands, planting new trees, either to replenish or to create a new woodland and cutting of scrub such as gorse.
What exactly is swaling? Swaling is the name given to controlled annual burning of vegetation. It is a traditional means of managing heathland, moorland and grassland to encourage new growth and it's been going on for thousands of years, especially in more upland areas. The actual word ‘swaling' may come from an Anglo Saxon word Swaelan- to burn.
The aim in swaling, is to have a controlled fire that removes surface vegetation to allow new growth from roots and seeds that remain undamaged in the soil. In the Quantock Hills National Landscape swaling occurs on Quantock Common and is the responsibility of the Commoners (farmers and land managers with rights of Common). The team and volunteers undertake the swaling on behalf of the Commoners though many of them get involved as well. It only occurs in the winter months when the impact on birds and reptiles is minimal and the swaling plan is carefully developed with Natural England, the body responsible for the special habitat of Quantock Common.