Flailbot (remote control flail mower)
This winter we have been trialling a Flailbot (remote controlled flail mower) in the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB. Funding was secured through the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB Sustainable Development Fund and Cadwyn Clwyd to see how the use of the Flailbot could potentially benefit the AONB.
One of the main concerns of all involved in upland habitat management in areas of the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley is the reduction in grazing livestock turned onto the hills. A reduction in grazing livestock within these upland areas causes the upland vegetation to grow excessively. This then reduces the favourability of the habitat for the fauna such as Black Grouse. We therefore need to find a way to encourage the regular grazing of these areas or manage them effectively with alternative methods.
This project has given us an opportunity to see the potential benefit the machine can provide in habitat management of the uplands. We have been using the Flailbot to cut gorse and heather in upland areas that were previously inaccessible with conventional machinery or for burning due to the severity of the slopes. The Flailbot machine, however, is able to cope with up to 55 degree angle slopes making it much better suited to the upland terrain and much more stable. It is also driverless which means it is a lot safer should an accident occur which is another feature that makes it ideal for this terrain.
The hire of the Flailbot machines has enabled us to cut areas of heather and gorse, opening up additional areas of grazing for livestock by allowing free movement of animals. Additional tracks have been cut into scrub areas to allow for easier flock management and gathering. On the heather moorlands, fire breaks have been cut which will aide traditional upland heather management by burning. However, this will also be beneficial as it will minimise the damaging effect of accidental hill fires which are an increasingly frequent occurrence.
Himalayan Balsam may seem to be an attractive purple flowered plant which is in full display over the summer months, mainly along river banks and waste land. However, unfortunately it is a non-native, invasive plant and can quickly smother other vegetation. After smothering other vegetation around it, Himalayan Balsam plants die back in the winter leaving bare soil. Often, rivers flood and can then wash the soil away which causes erosion to the riverbanks. This erosion can lead to a build-up of sediment within the rivers which can have a detrimental impact on the wildlife living in the rivers. Each plant can produce up to 800 seeds – these explode from the pod when ripe and can spread up to 4 metres from the plant, often into nearby watercourses which further helps the spread of the seeds. Therefore, Himalayan Balsam is highly invasive and can have a detrimental impact on the native flora along the riverbanks and also the wildlife living in the rivers.
Over the last 10 years, the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB have been working in partnership with Flintshire County Council, North Wales Wildlife Trust, Natural Resources Wales and Wildground to eradicate Himalayan Balsam along the River Alyn from the source in Llandegla to Mold.
We primarily control Himalayan Balsam by hand pulling with groups of volunteers but we do use contractors as well to treat denser areas. When pulled, the Himalayan Balsam needs ‘scrunching’ up so that it is completely destroyed and we then put it into small piles along the riverbank which decompose quickly. It needs to be pulled before it goes into seed so most of the work needs to be done before August. However, plants can still be found coming into flower as late as November so it is important to keep re-walking sections to check for new growth.
Over the years we have seen a huge reduction in plants and it is hoped that the first 10 miles of the River Alyn will be Himalayan Balsam free. At one point, this stretch of the river was abundant with Himalayan Balsam. However, we have now managed to minimise it to just a few hotspot areas which we are focussing on this year. After this, we will then be focussing our efforts on reducing the amount of Himalayan Balsam further downriver.
If you would like to take part in any of the Volunteer days this summer focussing on Himalayan Balsam, please get in touch with John Morris at Loggerheads Country Park (01824 712757).
Winners of the Clwydian Range & Dee Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Awards 2019 Announced
Volunteers from a community garden and an avid birdwatcher have been presented with awards. Every year the Clwydian Range & Dee Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) presents two awards to honour those contributing to the landscape and communities in the area.
This year Corwen Community Garden was given the AONB Award and John Lawton Roberts was presented with the AONB Volunteer Award. Mr Roberts from Llangollen has devoted much of his life to recording, watching and reporting on birds in North East Wales and has helped paint a detailed picture of the changes to bird populations in the area spanning a period of more than 40 years.
He has had various scientific papers published and charted the changes to the avian interest at Ruabon Moor and Creigiau Eglwyseg, with his work contributing to the success of a number of projects including the Welsh Black Grouse Recovery Programme.
Corwen Community Garden is located within the community orchard near the centre of town, and is a resource for all members of the community. The group meets every Wednesday, providing a social opportunity and making a contribution to the health and wellbeing of participants. The site was developed in spring 2016 with Welsh Government funding secured by Age Concern and once the funding came to an end, a small group of volunteers carried on the work. In the past two years they have transformed the field into a beautiful and productive garden.
Chair of the AONB Joint Committee, Councillor Tony Thomas said “I would like to congratulate John and the volunteers from Corwen Community Garden on their awards.
“The Clwydian Range & Dee Valley AONB benefits from all those who give their time and effort to help improve the landscape and communities. Both John and the members of Corwen Community Garden have gone above and beyond in their efforts.”
Corwen Community Garden members & John Lawton Roberts receiving the AONB Award for 2019 from the Chair of the Joint Committee Cllr Tony Thomas