Bracken Control: A Guide to Best Practice (SNH)

INTRODUCTION

THIS LEAFLET IS INTENDED FOR FARMERS AND MOORLAND MANAGERS WHO:

  • WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT BRACKEN CONTROL
  • WANT TO PREPARE A BRACKEN MANAGEMENT PLAN

It is an updated version of a booklet originally produced by the Southern Uplands Partnership, which has proved useful to land managers throughout Scotland. Following the general information on these pages, the main steps which should be considered in order to produce a bracken management plan are laid out in Stages 1-5. A management plan will help to ensure that methods are appropriate and will achieve their aims, and is essential if you intend to seek support under the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP) Rural Development Contracts - Rural Priorities. You may want to seek professional help with the production of a management plan.

 

 

BACKGROUND

Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) is an important and natural part of our landscape, and its abundance appears to have fluctuated over thousands of years. Its invasive nature allows it to spread, and it now occurs widely within a variety of habitats throughout Scotland. Originally a woodland plant, bracken may formerly have been kept in check by shading from the woodland canopy. Large-scale loss of woodland cover over the centuries may have facilitated its spread and increased abundance.

Changes in land management practices have also tended to favour the spread of bracken, namely:

  • fewer cattle in upland grazings and thus less trampling of bracken
  • sub-optimal management of heather and/or grassland
  • ending of the practice of cutting bracken for bedding
  • increased numbers of sheep in the uplands (although high densities may help to contain bracken in grassland).

Bracken is now a recognised problem which is severe in some areas of Scotland. Recent attempts to control bracken have highlighted the need to carry out control properly. There has been a dependency on certain control techniques which are not appropriate in every situation. Bracken has an extensive underground stem (rhizome) system which can store large amounts of nutrients and carbohydrate. This means that it can recover after initial treatment if control is neglected so adequate follow-up treatment and aftercare must be planned and implemented.

 

 

PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH BRACKEN

  • Bracken reduces the potential grazing area available to livestock.
  • Bracken can make the task of gathering stock difficult.
  • Bracken can make recreational access more difficult.
  • Bracken can make deer control more difficult.
  • Bracken can replace other important habitats such as heathland and species-rich grassland.
  • Bracken can inhibit woodland regeneration.
  • Bracken can harbour sheep ticks which may cause disease in livestock and humans.
  • Bracken is toxic and carcinogenic to stock and may have a negative impact on human health.
  • Bracken can increase fire hazard.

 


BENEFITS OF BRACKEN

  • Bracken can provide protective cover on steep slopes at risk of erosion.
  • As part of a habitat mosaic, bracken can be important for many forms of wildlife including invertebrates, small mammals, some plant species and birds such as whinchat, tree pipit, yellowhammer and nightjar.
  • Patchy bracken stands can support several rare fritillary butterflies which depend on violets and cow-wheat (often growing under bracken) as their sole food source.
  • Bracken can support woodland ground flora in areas that were once tree-covered.
  • Bracken is considered by some to possess considerable aesthetic value in the landscape, especially during the autumn months.
  • There are potential uses of bracken for animal bedding, compost, and as a biofuel.
 

BRACKEN MANAGEMENT

Your approach to treatment will depend very much on the type of vegetation you want to replace the bracken with. Whatever treatments are selected, management should be considered as at least a 5 year programme. Control programmes should consist of pre-control, primary and follow-up treatments, with post-control management addressing vegetation recovery. Primary treatment can achieve up to 98% kill. Follow-up treatment is targetted at the remaining fronds which will continue to appear. A large measure of control can be established with a carefully considered, targetted programme, but it may be difficult to eradicate bracken totally.

 


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