I’ve written before about mowing rides and glades with a scythe mower and a brush cutter before that. Six foot high nettles, cow parsley and saplings present no obstacle to this machine, but brambles are another story. Their branches run horizontally, tangle together and root when they touch the ground, creating a strong mesh. They need both horizontal and vertical cuts to cut them up and separate them from their roots. Last year I bought a petrol hedgetrimmer and yesterday I used it on big thicket of brambles blocking a ride: its first proper outing.
I bought the hedge trimmer for a hedge at home, and it’s a bit overkill for that. And an electric one would be cheaper, but I had the brambles of Century Wood in mind too. The model is a Stihl HS45, taking the same two stroke petrol mix as a chainsaw (also a Stihl in my case.)
Last summer I tried it out on brambles on the edge of the parking area and it worked very well on the plants that the scythe mower couldn’t touch because they were growing horizontally and off the ground: the mower just pushed them up, trimmed the few stems growing vertically, and then the brambles sprang back once the mower had gone past. With the hedge trimmer I could cut horizontally and vertically to catch all the stems one way or another. Yesterday I turned the same attention to a part of the South Ride which had become very overgrown.
I should say that brambles definitely have their place in Century Wood, both for their intrinsic value as native species, for the blackberries they produce, and for the ground cover they provide for wildlife and for saplings. However, rides and clearings are for people to get about and use, and the bramble’s thorns are painful and potentially dangerous to children. So the truce I offer these prickly plants is free reign off the rides, but annihilation on them. Even then they are restricted by shade to a dozen or so large thickets and the odd plant here and there.
The process I see with them on the rides is part of woodland succession in microcosm. They send out exploratory shoots, crawling along the ground but the mower takes care of these pioneers. It’s much harder when a big branch falls from a tree, and the temptation or necessity is to walk around it. Then the brambles can colonise the branch and the “dead” area surrounding it, until it becomes too hard to pull the branch out, or even get in with a chainsaw. With forestry tools replaced by herbivores, which may or may not be able to tackle the leaves or stems of brambles and threaten to eat the leaves off saplings, you can see how brambles and other thorn species were important in the back-and-forth rising-and-falling tides of open grassland versus woodland.
Back in Century Wood, this is the scenario that was playing out on a stretch of the South Ride. Since early 2018 I had been been skirting first fallen poplar branches and then a bramble thicket surrounding the branch. What had been a wide cleared, mowed ride beside an open area had become a tangled mass of branches, brambles, and in summer, nettles.
This photo in the failing light shows the ride in the centre-right after I cleared it. It had all been like the area on the left of the line of poplars, with branches and branches up to waist or even chest height. In high summer, this whole area was tall nettles and other green plants when I first bought the woods but over time the mowing of the rides has favoured grass – in the absence of brambles.
Having said all this it was quite hard work, with the hedge trimmer at arms length for most of it, stooping for the most part to get the lower stems. But now it’s done, the scythe mower – effectively a hedge trimmer on powered wheels – does the hard work for me.
One of the big issues with brambles is that they grow back from roots, and even bits of cut stem which find their way to the ground and manage to root. However, mowing eventually wins out, as grass just outgrows everything else in mowing, or grazing’s, aftermath.