The Hay Cut, with Sunflowers by a Memorial Tree

The Hay Cut

There are occasions over the course of a year, managing a nature reserve and natural burial ground, that push against my instincts.  But the development of a nature reserve is about management: however much I would like to do so, we aren’t rewilding.

For rewilding to be of real value (i.e. letting an area revert to its own natural state), you need more than 16 acres, you need time, and you need it not to be a natural burial ground.  Here at Sun Rising, if we were to do nothing, the land would quickly become a tussocky scrub of blackthorn, hogweed, dock and thistle.  The sycamore, ash and birch seedlings would creep in after a while, and given a little longer, it would turn into a tatty sort of woodland.  In fifty years, it would no doubt be wonderful, but it would just be woodland, and very few of our families with loved ones laid to rest here would thank us for the difficult decades in between …

As a nature reserve, rather than rewilding, we are creating, and nurturing, different habitats in order to maximise biodiversity, providing a haven for as wide a range of local flora and fauna as we can.  Furthermore, we are doing that gently, sensibly, in order to ensure that each step of the way, its future is sustainable.  That takes management.

The Hay Cut, with Sunflowers by a Memorial Tree

The Hay Cut, with Sunflowers by a Memorial Tree

And one of the hardest moments of the year is when the main area of grassland is cut for hay.  The diversity of grasses is improving, with meadow barley, crested dogstail, bents, yorkshire fog, cocks foot, bromes, meadow-grasses, sweet vernal grass, false oat-grass, timothy, rye, and probably more.  The sky larks have nested and fledged, but there are very many other creatures living and breeding in grasses that are now up to 5 foot tall.  But if we didn’t mow, the heavy seedheads would encourage the stems to fall in the rain, it would mat and rot, increasing the soil fertility, and …

So we cut the grass.  In fact, it was cut on Sunday, and will be turned, then baled over the next few days.  I am still holding my breath, but the stubble will green again and new grass starts to grow, and slowly I’ll start to breathe again.