Bracken Control: A Guide to Best Practice (SNH)


  • Aftercare should begin from the first year after primary treatment. The choice as to which vegetation type is aimed at to replace bracken will be determined by the land use objectives and the remaining understorey and adjoining vegetation. How much intervention is required will depend to a large extent on how much understorey remains.

The following prescriptions for the restoration of heathland and moorland have been successful where tried experimentally:


This can be achieved in a number of ways: burning, incorporation, winter foddering and removal. All should increase the speed of ground vegetation growth and all can be initiated before treatment of the bracken begins, although if existing bracken fronds are damaged, the effectiveness of some primary treatments can be reduced. This option should not be considered on steep slopes where the risk of soil erosion is high.


Re-instatement of heather requires the use of seed from other areas of heathland or moorland especially where long established, or dense bracken stands are treated. Deep bracken litter can hamper heather regeneration. Litter may need to be broken down or removed. Seed can be applied as heather litter (at about 1 t/ha) or as cut shoots collected in November or December (at about 5-15 t/ha). Seeding can now also be done from the air. Stabilisation of the soil whilst heather establishment takes place can be accomplished with some types of forestry brashings. Good stock management to prevent selective grazing of young heather may be crucial.


Establishment of a grass sward is easier. For productive grassland, normal agricultural practices should be followed. For upland grazing a mix of species such as Common Bent, Wavy Hair Grass and Sheeps Fescue should be sown at 60 kg/ha. Diversifying the mixture with a range of herbs will produce a grassland with higher conservation interest, though at extra cost. Native species should be used, and, where available, local seed sources.


Preferably a slow release fertilizer with a high phosphate to nitrogen ratio should be employed (150 kg/ha). For grassland establishment lime can be added to raise the pH to above 5.5 to aid establishment and growth.


Initial localised control of bracken in the area intended for planting may be necessary to permit tree establishment. Natural regeneration is unlikely to be successful unless an adequate seed source exists, and if the regeneration site is free of deep bracken litter, bracken, and other competing vegetation. Follow up spot treatment or cutting of bracken may be necessary for 3-5 years after planting, until there is no danger of competition with saplings.


In all cases where vegetation is being re-instated, grazing should be reduced or prevented in the year of seeding to allow establishment. In grassland, grazing should be possible the following year, though careful monitoring to prevent overgrazing should be maintained. The slower growth of heather plants means they should be protected from grazing for a longer period - especially during the winter (when stock have little other grazing), for up to five years. Even after this, care should be taken to prevent overgrazing.



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