Managing bracken on Lowick Common
Cumbria Wildlife Trust was bequeathed Lowick Common in 1996 and took ownership of the site in 2018. This was by far the biggest gift of land we have ever received.
Our vision for Lowick Common is to create a wonderful mosaic of grassland, wetland, woodland, heath and scrub where wildlife can thrive and be enjoyed by people.
We spent the first three years of our ownership assessing the wildlife of the site and talking to local people about what they thought was special about the Common. We organised a meeting at the village hall where local people were invited to give their views on the future management of the Common. We also had a stall at Lowick Show and attended a Parish Council Meeting. Unanimously, people said it was a priority to tackle the bracken. In all of these consultations we have never had anybody say that managing the bracken was a bad idea.
Lowick Common is predominantly covered in head-high bracken. This bracken dominates at the expense of most other plant species and is very poor nesting habitat for birds. From the survey work we did, and from talking to local people, we identified the most important wildlife priorities as being those animals and plants such as adders, lizards, amphibians, flowering plants and a range of insects which require more open habitats. At present the wildlife interest and much public access is excluded from most of the fell due to the blanket monoculture of impenetrable bracken.
Woodland and trees are very much a part of our vision for the Common and there is plenty of space for trees, scrub, woodland and wood pasture, as well as more open areas. In cutting bracken we are carrying on traditional management that has been practised for hundreds of years and ensuring that Lowick Common stays as part of the treasured cultural landscape that is so important in the Lake District.
Dalefoot Compost cut and bail bracken from sites across Cumbria and beyond to produce sustainable, peat-free compost for gardening. Their machinery is able to cut large areas of bracken, bailing it up and taking away not only the cut fronds, but also the litter that builds up below the bracken stands.
Occasionally small regenerating trees are cut accidentally when hidden in the deep bracken. We are keen to encourage tree regeneration at Lowick Common and the contractors try to avoid any trees or scrub where possible. The Trust receives no income from the bracken management and, as we get no income from the land, this is a way to be able to begin managing the bracken without having to try and raise large amounts of money to do it.
We are limited in when the bracken can be harvested to between the end of the bird breeding season and before the bracken dies back.