Report R046 *****

Problem: Creeping thistle (plus some Spear), in permanently grazed sheep pasture
Where: Bank Farm, Harrogate, North Yorkshire
When: Early August 2004
Area: 130 acres
Status: Organic & Countryside Stewardship
Detail: Demonstrate effect of Chisel Hoeing (2 man-days). Too late in season. Very High Density of plants (200 + rosettes to 9 sq. metres). Recommend confining sheep in winter, starting trials of repeated cutting with small flail heather mower, in very bad areas. Close to ground, three times in growing season.

Governed by both the Organic & Countryside Stewardship Schemes, these 130 acres are not cultivated.

Problem: Creeping thistle in almost permanently grazed sheep pasture. Yorkshire Water PLC are landlords of this farm, which is situated near reservoirs and is part of the immediate water catchment area. Farm chemicals found in the water cost a lot to remove.

Density: Very High : Plants were so numerous that they appeared to be touching. Well over 200 to 25 sq metres. Action taken: Yorkshire Water commissioned 18 man-hrs.of L-D Chisel Hoeing to assess the impact.

Assessment: the intensity of the plants was so great, that progress was slow. We only managed to chisel-hoe approximately an acre. The farm will have to be managed very differently, in order for it to remain organic. Changes must be radical, and the improvements gradual. If cultivations were possible, break crops and reseeding would help no end. Until an agreement allowing this is forthcoming, L-D recommend the following measures, in order to keep the farm chemical free.

1. Confine sheep to as small an area as possible in winter (yards or just one field), to allow the field turf to recover some depth. This not only discourages light from getting to the rhizome, but it also clears the land of sheep (a vital precaution, anyway). Keeping the turf eaten down all the time, is just no good.

2. After clearing the pasture boundaries of wall stones to enable better access by cutting machines, roll the fields flat. Eat off the hay fields closely in the early Spring with the sheep and lambs.

4. When a good number of Creeping Thistle rosettes have grown to 6", sharpen the blades of the topper, and set it extremely close-to-the-ground. Use it to try and cut the shoots off below the point of leaf development. A Logic pasture topper might be the best tool, because it is only 1.5.metres wide, and does not ‘bottom’ so readily as a wider machine on skids. (Experiments with this machine are on-going moorland grasses which are constantly grazed in Spaunton.)

5. Clear the boundary walls & hedges of all thistles, to prevent seeding. Use handwork, strimmers, Lazy Dogs, Weedhooks, for this work.

6. Clear the South western boundaries first.

7. Start taking handwork seriously. Get chisel hoeing and using the L-D in the worst areas, spending a good week every year doing this. The going will get easier from year to year, so gradually increase the area covered.

8. Attention to detail is everything.

Cost of demonstration: £180.