Trip reports

Volunteering at Aberlady

Volunteering at Aberlady
Volunteers tackling Spartina at Skinflats RSPB Reserve

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Members of the Local Group joined with Aberlady Ranger John Harrison and his team of volunteers for a day of buckthorn cutting and path repairing.

We concentrated on the path from the Marl loch and resurfaced about 100yards with 2 inches of Whin sand. This is a basalt type, crystalline sand, sourced locally, with a structure that will easily tamp down to produce a firm surface. The task choices were shovelling the sand into barrows, wheel barrowing to the site, levelling or tamping down, so most folk did some of each to try and minimise muscle ache. Access to the reserve by visitors is an important aspect of reserve management and the new surface should prevent further erosion of the grass adjoining the path by walkers dodging the puddles. We also cleared young buckthorn bushes from the area around the Marl loch. These had been cut some years ago and were now sprouting again from old roots.

Control of unwanted, invasive species is a constant task for habitat management and many will be familiar with the successful ongoing programme of cutting Tree Mallow from Fidra and Craigleith islands to facilitate the use of the exposed burrows by puffins.

Members who went on the walk to Baron's Haugh in April commented on the notice warning of spraying taking place between the first and second hides we visited. This was to control Giant Hogweed.
Another invasive species found in small clumps on the RSPB reserve at Skinflats is Spartina. This species has an interesting history. The native U.K. Spartina or cord grass S. maritima crossed with S. alterniflora, an American species first found in Southampton water about 1870 and originally introduced in ships' ballast water. The hybrid S. anglica has a rapid growth rate and aggressive colonisation habit and was extensively planted throughout Britain to stabilize soft sediments. Unfortunately, the rapid colonisation of the hybrid over mud flats with large wintering populations of waders and wildfowl is a major concern because of the birds' loss of habitat for feeding and roosting. It is believed that S. anglica may have helped restrict and limit the growth of the native S. maritima as the latter is much less widely spread than formerly. In addition, by out competing the native species, it produces a monoculture which has much less intrinsic value to wildlife than the naturally species-diverse marsh.

The control method in use at Skinflats is by covering the clumps with a dark membrane and pinning this into the mud in an attempt to limit photosynthesis and eventually kill it. The photos do not do full justice to how muddy we became during this process. The membranes will remain in position for a couple of years and will, hopefully result in limiting the plant's spread.

Margaret Harrison