On 1 January 2013 it will become illegal to use the bracken-control chemical Asulam. The chemical, which was sold as Asulox, was banned by the EU on 31 December 2011 but those who already had stocks had a year to use these up. While good in small areas, as it provides cover for animals, bracken can be a real problem, quickly becoming a monoculture, shading out and eliminating wild plants and flowers.
Landowners are now considering their options, the main alternatives that lend themselves to automation being cutting or rolling. I have been using horses for bracken control for a couple of years. The horse pulls a special roller with ridges, which bends and partially breaks the bracken fronds. This has the effect of weakening the plant as it attempts to regrow. The rolling is done around mid to late summer and, like chemical control did, needs to be repeated for a few years. Each rolling operation can reduce shoots by about one third, thinning a dense stand of bracken into more scattered fronds.
My business, Powys Forest Horses, is mainly horse logging but bracken bashing makes a useful summer job for a working forestry horse. This last year, Elza my Dutch Draft mare and I helped Forestry Commission Wales to control thick bracken in Breidden Forest, which sits on the border between Powys and Shropshire. Local Area Manager Jim Ralph turned to horsepower to reduce the bracken instead of using chemicals on the sensitive area, which is close to a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) as well as being popular with walkers and horse riders.
Forestry Commission press release: http://alturl.com/atxvc
Powys Forest Horses: http://www.powysforesthorses.co.uk
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