When the ground is moist and weeds are visible, the ‘Removal of Individual Plants’ becomes a simple and immediate option, always selective and much more competitive than people realize.
Optimum times for initiating RIP vary with latitude, degree of site exposure, type and degree of grazing, but all clearances should be started well before the growing season. The months of May, June, July, are for ‘follow-up’, or special tasks involving both 1st & 2nd ragwort plants (see note below).
Optimum effect of RIP will depend on the degree of crop cover or turf recovery, allowed by either season or management. Prolonged and concentrated winter grazing is never helpful.
Dock clearances (in grasses)
We have started dock clearances in Feb/March, leaving ‘follow-up’ until May (see recent Monitored Trial 2004), but have also cleared sites using the week before Christmas (see Stanton Park 2000). Being stock farmers, we prefer to clear docks while strip-grazing grasses in the winter (with lambs). These conditions make it easy to see plants, and give us a limited area to clear each day. On the other hand, many long-grass sites have been successfully cleared, despite the difficulty of locating plants. These old sites always offer the best cover for long term control of seedlings & re-growth, although (warning!), they also produce multitudes of hidden plants, competing for light among the older clusters. When conditions are reasonable, each tool operator should lift between 80 & 90 plants per hour (600 per day).
Example 1) Dock clearance at Stanton Park. Dec 2000.
Community Forest Park / old grasses / wildflowers / herbs / limestone brash,
It took four men and a boy, one long week to clear this 7 hectare site, finishing on Christmas eve. When we left, the outcome was by no means certain. The land had been brown with large infestations of mature dock, some of which stood five foot tall. Removing those massive root clusters from the stony ground often took our full strength, and we were both fearful of the seed being scattered and of too many roots being broken. While working, we were encouraged to find a white grub enjoying destructive burrowing & eating in some of the dock roots. After the clearance, there was no ‘follow-up’, and the rangers in charge were slow to clear the piles of brown plants. In the spring, the land was very lightly grazed by sheep, leaving plenty of long grasses (and cover). Normally, most weed control measures require ‘follow-up treatment’, especially after major clearances.
Result: An inspection in 2002, found very few dock plants (less than 10 observed) growing in the cleared area. An inspection in summer 2004, found enough visible docks to occupy two men with L-Ds for a day. Given the extent of the original infestation, we should count this as a remarkable success. Remember, there was consistently good crop cover. Remember also, the little white grub which was forced to concentrate on the reduced rations of re-growth and root-ends, left by the clearance. (Length 1.5 cms. Who was he ?)
Example 2) MONITORED REPORT on docks at Spaunton 2004
Removing Spear thistle
Seedling rosettes will appear in either March/April or Sept/Oct, and these are the best times to remove them. Seeds can arrive on the wind or be revealed in the seed bank, and are encouraged to grow by extended summer or winter grazing (esp. sheep). In an April trial on our farm, we took 8016 seedling plants from 12 acres at a cost of £130 (paying £6.50p per hour). A few ragwort rosettes were also removed in the same operation, which only cost £10-£12 per acre. Windblown seed, travelling 70 metres in September was the known source of this particular problem, with enforced winter grazing completing the job.
Clearances of old and badly affected pastures, usually need several visits, because spear thistle seeds will hide under 2nd year plate-sized rosettes and be exposed by their removal. Second year plants also develop long, forked roots, each of which is capable of flowering and therefore have to be completely extracted. This is not nearly as quick or easy as removing seedlings. Remembering the prevailing wind direction, and that this plant spreads from fence-lines /walls/hedges, is important.
Example 1) Spear thistle control trial at High Cross. Spaunton, N.Yorks, 2002
Example 2) Spear thistle control contract at High Farm, Menthorpe, NorthYorkshire, 2003. On this farm, the use of chemical spot treatment is an option. Parts of the farm are in Countryside Stewardship.
In the Spring of 2002, fourteen acres were put down to a grass / wildflower mixture.
This was lightly grazed or topped as it became established. By Spring 2003, Spear thistle (lots), Common & Curled dock (bad in areas) & Ragwort (enough), had established themselves. In April, the L-D workforce was asked to remove them, and four men completed the job in just one day. A clean crop of horse hay was harvested in late July. The cost of removing four species in one pass was £240 or £17 per acre, and therefore much less than spot treatment (with different chemicals etc).
Example 3) Spear & Marsh thistle control (Malham & Ingleborough 2003-4).
Multitudes of Marsh thistle rosettes were removed in late April for EN at Ingleborough, and Spear thistle was selected for control over 120 acres at Malham in 2003 for NT. Both these demonstrations were useful, and showed officers what could be achieved, with individual workers being paid £60 per 8hr day. (photos available)
Pulling Ragwort. (Common & Hoary)
Both 1st & 2nd year ragwort growth should be visible in long grasses by mid May,
and this is the time to start single-pass clearances. In early June 2004, two 6 ton trailers were filled with rosette sized plants from 60 acres of Farthing Down (Surrey). It took two weeks for an inexperienced workforce of five, to remove practically all plants due to flower in July (both the early Common & later Hoary), and a large percentage of plants comprising next years crop (2005). If the grazing cattle numbers remain similar, next years ragwort work should have been reduced considerably.
On many sites, rosettes can also be very usefully removed in the Autumn,
It is well known, that permanently & tightly grazed pastures, are an invitation for ragwort to succeed. Deer, sheep & horses are the worst offenders, and their presence needs to be fiercely controlled during winter, if turf depth & crop cover are to be restored after rosette clearances. In areas fenced after ragwort clearances, recovery is always minimal compared to surrounding grazed areas.
[P.S. the shorter & lighter L-D ragwort tool is an essential asset for large areas]
Chiselling Creeping Thistle
We chisel this plant in April/May, and cut the 6"rosettes just below the point of leaf formation. In order to replace these shoots and continue maximum photosynthesis, the plant has to grow new shoots from its rhizome. Unfortunately, throughout May & June, there are many potential rosettes hiding just below the surface. These are part of the plants normal programme of shoot emergence, throughout the season. Completely new re-growth from the rhizome (caused by repeated chiselling), is recognizable by being softer and less prickly. We do use the topper on some of the re-growth on pastureland, but in many areas on our farm, the plant is being exhausted by chiselling. We have found that rosettes that emerge after a chiselling in late May, hardly ever reach full maturity.
The plant thrives on moisture and produces phenomenal growth in a wet season. This does require repeated cutting or chiselling, and control is noticeably easier in drier areas (banksides in particular). Long grass can create a hindrance to chiselling, and frustrate the ‘normal’ work-rate of 30 plants per minute. The plant will also emerge earlier on these ungrazed sites, where it is protected from the cold winds of spring. As stock farmers, we try to chisel our pastures immediately after moving the sheep, because the short grass makes for much easier and more satisfactory work.
In the spring of 2004, a group of 15 Hertfordshire volunteers formed a 30 metre wide line across a grassland field, containing Creeping thistle beds. The team were spaced two metres apart and each carried a chisel hoe, which they used to take out plants as the line moved forward. In an hour, ten acres had been covered. This exercise provides a great example of what can be achieved both selectively and efficiently, when numerous workers using hand tools are well organized. Mercifully, we know of no machine able to stretch 30 metres across the land…..
[Carborundum sticks for keeping the blade sharp, are always carried with chisel hoes, especially in long grass]