Habitat & access Management
What practical tasks and on the ground management do the rangers 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!
Swaling until the end of March, promoted route checks and maintenance, ‘slow the flow’ works to aid flood prevention, beach cleans.
Promoted route checks and maintenance
There are various promoted routes around the Quantock Hills (see our Walks page) during the warmer months the Rangers 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
Site checks and maintenance
There are various sites around the Quantock Hills (see our Walks page) and during the busy summer months the Rangers check and maintain these.
This may involve clearing vegetation, repairing picnic tables, signage and ensuring fences and all 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 Rangers 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 Rangers 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.
Continuation of bat monitoring, coppicing and hedgelaying, scrub (gorse) cutting, tree audits at Cothelstone Hill and areas of the open common
Scrub cutting is carried out predominantly at Cothelstone Hill as part of the HLS scheme to open up the grassland for the grazing Exmoor ponies and for the grassland flora.
This is carried out by the volunteers and sometimes contractors.
Coppicing is a traditional way of managing 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.
Laying a hedge allows continuity in the hedgerow. Its natural life is extended, without this regeneration the hedge will mature and start to die. Gaps will appear, becoming larger and larger, until you are left with just a few gnarly old individual trees. We are supportive of anyone caring for their hedgerows in this way and as well as providing training for volunteers in this practice, we are keen to lend a helping hand to those wanting to lay and care for native hedgerows - see our Greater Quantock Landscape Development Fund page for more info.
When funding allows, in conjunction with FWAG South West (Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group) the AONB has run training days and competitions and also with volunteer groups the rangers have restored boundary hedge feature using traditional techniques at various locations around the Quantock Hills.
Woodland management, slow the flow,
scrub management & swaling
Slow the Flow
The AONB Service have been working with the Somerset Rivers Authority and the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group installing natural flood management structures on the Commons.
The aim of the works is to slow the flow of water from the uplands to the surrounding lowlands. Features include woody dams, wood barriers, stone drainage grips to divert water and coir matting to allow regeneration of vegetation.
This can include tree felling, either to increase the diversity and resilience of woodlands or for safety reasons.
Tree planting also takes place in the winter months and can include woodland trees or landscape trees or orchards.
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. It's been going on for thousands of years.
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.