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Cutting edge nature conservation at Blacktoft Sands

Last modified: 31 January 2014

Bittern walking on cut reeds

Image: Brian Howson

A new state-of-the-art cutting machine is helping the RSPB to give wildlife a home in England’s largest tidal reedbed at Blacktoft Sands.

The Softrack is a light and agile vehicle that is able to cut reed quickly and efficiently and can easily access the wettest areas at the heart of the reedbed. This means the RSPB is able manage the site more effectively than ever before, by creating open areas across the reedbed that benefit a huge range of wildlife including rare bitterns, bearded tits and water voles.

Cutting the reedbed also prolongs its life by preventing it from drying out and turning to woodland.

Pete Short, Humber Reserves Manager, says: “In the past we used a tractor with hay mower to cut the reed but the weight of the vehicle meant that it sank in the wetter parts of the reserve. This meant we had to resort to using a heavy-duty strimmer called a brush cutter, which was hard physical work and pretty miserable as we used to get very wet and cold.

“With its caterpillar rollers and lightweight design, the Softrack can get anywhere in the reedbed and cut about four times as much reed as a team of three people using brush cutters. It is saving us a lot of time, money and energy.”

As well as benefitting plants and animals, the RSPB also plans to use the Softrack to harvest reed for use as a low carbon fuel. The conservation organisation is currently investigating possible markets for reed on the reserve and on neighbouring wetlands in the wider Humberhead Levels area.

Funded by landfill tax charity WREN, the Softrack is part of Back to the Future, a five-year RSPB project that will restore wetlands to their former glory and manage them sustainably for wildlife through modern conservation techniques.

Over the past few centuries, large areas of the Humberhead Levels’ important wetlands have been lost due to drainage schemes, which have had a devastating effect on wildlife.

 

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