This week, the rangers were joined by a lovely team of volunteers from Unilever’s Environmental Safety department at Colworth Park. Having previously worked directly on projects related to preventing and mitigating the pollution of waterways, the team was keen to help out with efforts directly related to the maintenance of clean and healthy water systems. With this in mind, we guided them to assist with the annual cut of our main reed bed. Reed beds, serving as excellent filtration systems, offer a natural solution to the ongoing problem of nutrient pollution caused by agricultural runoff and waste processing, impacting our rivers and lakes. Additionally, they support a wide range of wildlife, providing over-winter shelter to invertebrates, safe nesting opportunities for small mammals like harvest mice, and secluded fishing spots for elusive bird species such as Bitterns.
Historically, reed beds were maintained for as a resource. Dried stems were used for thatching, mattresses, basket making, and a host of other crafts. Regular cutting and collection prevented the establishment of trees and scrub, as well as the accumulation of dead plant material, both of which would eventually dry out the reed bed and transform it into a fen. However, as the industries reliant on this material declined and widespread drainage of wetlands for conversion to agricultural use progressed, reed bed coverage decreased significantly, and the wildlife that live in this type of environment faced large scale habitat loss.
Here at Stanwick Lakes, we follow a ten-year cycle in which, annually, we cut and remove vegetation from a different 10% of our reed bed each year, mirroring the traditional practice of material harvesting. This approach keeps trees and scrub at bay, encourages vigorous new growth of the reeds, and ensures the habitat is maintained for the wildlife that values and depends on it.