RSPB Rotary Ditcher
The RSPB Rotary Ditcher is a specialist machine used widely for the creation and restoration of wetland habitats. It is owned by the RSPB and operated by specialist contractors, RC Baker Ltd. It is available for hire for wetland conservation projects throughout the UK.
The ditcher was imported from the USA in 2002, with the support of Heritage Lottery Fund. Since then the machine has worked on more than 100 farms and nature reserves across the UK.
- The ditcher is most efficient at creating' foot drains' - shallow channels designed to hold surface water. These areas provide habitat for breeding waders, such as lapwing and redshank, and in particular their chicks - which feed on invertebrates in wet mud at the edge of pools and scrapes. Soil type, topography and water level management are all important in designing foot drains. Recent research by the RSPB has shown that:
- fields with high foot drain densities attract significantly higher densities of nesting lapwings
- nests are more likely to be within 50 m of foot drains
- lapwing chicks are more likely to feed nearer foot drains, on wet mud created by receding water levels
- Reference: Eglington, S.M., Gill J.A., Bolton M., Smart M.A., Sutherland W.J., Watkinson A.R. (2007) Restoration of wet features for breeding waders on lowland grassland. Journal of Applied Ecology, 2007
Work planned or underway
Landowners and site managers are stepping up for nature and hiring the machine to create wetland habitats rich in wildlife. The annual work programme is in constant development, with projects usually planned across the UK.
The rotary ditcher is a vital tool for creating wetland habitats at a landscape scale. The machine has worked in 10 of the RSPB's Futurescapes, with more work planned in the coming years.
The Rotary Ditcher:
- Creates foot drains up to 40cm deep and 3 m wide at a rate of around 200 m per hour* - ten times faster and half the cost of an excavator
- Is laser-levelled to give an accurate depth of excavation, with adjustable cutting blades to create variable ditch profiles
- Creates ditches up to 6 m across by up to 1.5 m deep with more passes*
- Shifts up to 10 tonnes of spoil per minute*
- Throws spoil up to 30 m away*. Spoil breaks down easily into the sward and give a good tilth for reseeding if required
- Creates pools 10 m wide and up to 30 m long, with a maximum depth of 30 cm, in less than an hour*
*Depends on soil type, topography, vegetation cover and complexity of features being created.
The ditcher is transported on a low loader from its base in Oxfordshire, and this can make up a significant proportion of costs for sites away from this area. As such, it is mainly suitable for sites, or groups of sites, with work covering at least three days, to make it cost effective. As the machine is widely deployed, transport costs can be shared and there may be nearby sites using the machine. For up to date information on hire costs, contact the Rotary Ditcher Project.
Wet features created by the ditcher may be eligible to receive capital funding through agri-environment schemes such as Environmental Stewardship. Experience shows that in most cases agri-environment funding will cover the costs of the work. You should discuss any plans at an early stage with the appropriate body for your area, to ensure scheme compliance and available funding.
Advice and booking information
The RSPB can provide free advice and support on the deployment and use of the ditcher, including undertaking specific site visits. The machine and its operation are complex, and such support is often a vital element of project success. Sites interested in booking the Rotary Ditcher should be aware that advance booking is essential.
The rotary ditcher has worked on 25 RSPB nature reserves, including Minsmere, Titchwell Marsh, Otmoor, Berney Marshes, Ouse Washes, Greylake, Exe Estuary, Marshside and Saltholme. Other clients include many private landowners, Natural England, Environment Agency, Carillion, Tweed Forum and several county Wildlife Trusts.
Foot drain created on a Lancashire farm
Newly excavated foot drain on a Sussex farm
Teardrop scrape created along foot drain
The rotary ditcher travels on a low loader
Wetland habitat created by the rotary ditcher in Oxfordshire
Working at Rutland Water
Who to contact