Stephen with the topper out on the wetlands.

As we had mentioned in a previous Blog a couple of weeks ago, we had wandered onto the farm one morning, as is our wont, and came across Stephen underneath his 'topping' machine. “That looks serious, Stephen!” we called out in a jocular fashion which is our way of saying, “what are you doing and why?” His head bobbed out from beneath this wonderful piece of machinery. “Yes, I'm just sharpening up the tines and giving it a general service. I'm going to top the rushes when I come back from holiday and besides I can't get at them until the beginning of August  - regulations and all that.” We said, “It looks pretty dry now, it'll be ideal for you when you come back.” He replied, “yes, but the weather forecast doesn't look good. There's some rain coming,” said he casting an eye at some rather large thunder clouds which seemed to be building up in the west.

Anyway, Stephen departed for his holiday and the rain came. It seemed that quite a lot of water had built up on the wetlands – so come his first working day back, we heard the machinery going out on the farm. He was like a greyhound released from the traps – and was evidently making good progress. Spray and steam were flying as hot metal bit into the luxuriant growth of rushes, which we were informed, had not seen the blade for the last four years as there had been so much water and mud about – but this time, although there had been a considerable amount of rainfall held on the wetlands, it was basically hard underneath due to the long dry spell we have just had. Stephen was driving like a man possessed – not being able to get at these rushes last year particularly, had annoyed him.

Conservation on this kind of Reserve – being concerned with meadows, wetlands and raised bog, where cattle, sheep birds and haymaking are all closely intertwined - inherits all the  fundamental pressures and frustrations of farming, overlaid by the delicate management of nature conservation. For example, cattle cannot be introduced too early and must be taken out at very specific points as winter approaches; sheep grazing and lambing, in co-operation with the Haweswater (in Lakeland) Reserve, requires very intricate supervision - as the old saying goes: Man proposeth, Nature disposeth! - to add yet another layer of uncertainty. So when we indicate that Stephen came at the job like a man possessed, you know what we mean. And despite the general demeanour of the Staff on the farm being welcoming and affable, one is aware that they have many tasks to perform when they are juggling all these issues - so we try not to keep them too long when eliciting information but as we all know, RSPB are in the business of communication also – a very difficult equation to solve, especially on this type of Reserve with such a large and variable acreage (just under a 1000 acres), with so few Staff. Heaven knows what they would do without the workparty volunteers' dedicated involvement each week, year in year out!

Water on hot metal.

In the thick of it!

There's are no short cuts here!

Looking out  from the hide across the topped meadows, 2 days later.

. . . and out towards the Phragmites.

Some areas are too wet to cut.

Small flocks of Starlings were the first to arrive . . .

. . .  to take advantage of the pickings.

A Buzzard had caught a rabbit which it took to a nearby tree stump to devour.

Satisfied it then flew away over Rogersceugh farm.

Crows too, soon came to investigate.

The herd of cattle which graze these meadows, seem to be enjoying the newly cut rushes.