June’s expedition for the Young Rangers was to Brean Down – the day was to include a visit to the Victorian fortress but it was the battle against bracken that was our task for the day.
Brean Down marks the end of the Mendip Hills escarpment before the carboniferous limestone descends into the Bristol Channel. National Trust Ranger Rob Stephens explained how the limestone grassland of the site, a habitat typical of the Mendip Hills, is rich in rare plants including White Rock Rose and insects such as Chalk Hill Blue butterflies. But the grassland is threatened by bracken which spreads by underground rhizomes sending out thousands of new shoots which out compete other plants.
The Young Rangers were helping the ongoing work of the National Trust to control the bracken and encourage limestone grassland to thrive. The technique is simple: using a hazel stick you hit the bracken so each stem is bruised and damaged. This weakens the underground system of rhizomes and any new bracken growth is stunted. You can already see a variety of plants returning to areas where bracken has been ‘bashed’ in previous years.
After clearing an area of the bracken the Young Rangers visited the Victorian fortress at the end of Brean Down, seeing inside to former officers quarters and explosives store.