Mysterious looking markings have appeared in the grasslands on Big Moor this week. However, there is nothing supernatural going on, just the wardens with the tractor!
This work is targeted on areas dominated by Molinia, or purple moor grass. This grass is native and characteristic of moorlands, but in some areas it is dominant and suppresses the other plant species. This is usually linked to historic over grazing, the other more palatable plants were eaten and the Molinia left to take over the habitat. Often these Molinia areas support little wildlife compared to the more diverse vegetation.
The cattle are one of the best tools we have to manage this Molinia, they will happily graze it and their trampling breaks up the dense structure allowing other plants to get in and grow. Over the past few years the cattle have had a brilliant impact on some areas and you can see the heather and other species increasing, but in the middle of the large swathes of this dense, tussocky grass they are not spending enough time. This is where the tractor comes in. By cutting strips in these areas the cattle can move more freely into the middle of the grasslands to do their all important grazing and trampling. Cattle are ruminants, so after a session of grazing they like to sit and chew the cud, this is when they regurgitate the grass from part of their stomach to rechew so it can be properly digested. These cut areas also form ideal places for the cattle to sit compared to the uncut tussocks of the surrounding Molinia, encouraging them to spend even more time where we need them.