Rush Control – Weed Wiper Hire Scheme; Sycamore Seedlings and Toxicity to Horses; Bumblebee Events.

Very many thanks to Andrew who sent in the following piece on  a very useful scheme, potentially available to many meadow owners, who currently have soft rush infestations on their land…

Everyone who was at the Pumsaint meeting on the 25th March will recall the film showing how Julian and Fiona Wormald tackled a virtual monoculture of soft rush Juncus effusus in one of their fields, and how, after several years of intensive manual work (and some judicious topical application of MCPA herbicide), it has been transformed into a biodiverse and productive meadow.  As Julian pointed out in the commentary, this is a documentary made at the time the work was being done about how they did it, and it’s not intended as a set of instructions for how to tackle the same problem in any field.  In particular, the “Grandfather Rights” exemption which allows people without the appropriate NPTC certificate (a qualification for using spraying equipment with pesticides) ceased at the end of 2015.  The film also shows how the rush problem was being managed at the time in neighbouring fields, with very poor control.

It’s fairly obvious when you travel around the county that there are a lot of fields that are virtually covered in soft rush, often next to pasture fields with none, or almost none.  So they are being managed by commercial farmers, but how? There are various grazing, topping/cutting methods recommended which will limit the vigour of the rushes, but a common method by commercial farmers is spraying with MCPA using big spray booms on a tractor or quad bike.  The downside of this method (as opposed to small scale topical application with a knapsack sprayer, or even a manual weed wiper) is the large volume of chemical used, and the increased risk of spray drift.  Routine monitoring by Dŵr Cymru (Welsh Water) over recent years detected increased levels of MCPA, particularly in early summer when rush treatment is most successful (actively growing but before flowering), in several watercourses across Wales.

On a large farm scale, with tens or hundreds of acres to treat, spot spraying isn’t a viable option.  But the recent development of well designed weed wiper machinery led Dŵr Cymru to introduce a scheme whereby farmers are encouraged to switch from boom spraying with MCPA (which takes significantly longer to break down in the environment) to weed wiping using Glyphosate.  The scheme, which began in 2015 and carried on in 2016, means that farmers and land managers can hire a weed wiper machine (which is towed behind a quad bike) at zero cost from various machinery dealers.  The weed wiper works by wiping only tall vegetation (treatment minimum height is adjustable) with glyphosate solution.  None drips out onto low plants, and none is sprayed.  The only plants to be treated are those tall enough to be contacted by the revolving brush under the machine.  Far less chemical is used, and there is no risk of spray drift.  The scheme has proved to be very successful; MCPA residues have indeed been reduced, and users report that rush control is greatly improved.  The scheme has now been extended and will continue between April and September in 2017. 

Note that you need to have the NPTC qualification to hire the machine.  But there may be qualified contractors, and there is always scope for buying a helpful qualified neighbour a few beers.  The scheme is restricted to the catchments of the Teifi, Towy and Upper Wye, but this covers much of the county.

For detailed information on the scheme, please click here.

Or since some readers don’t seem to be able to get this to work, try searching for…

On a personal note, Julian would be genuinely interested to hear how organic small holders or farmers manage a severe soft rush infestation. He struggled to find any meaningful research or information about this topic when preparing his film, or indeed when the film was shown, so if anyone has good experience with managing severe soft rush organically, do please share it with other readers.


One reason this post is a little tardy being put up, (apologies to Andrew for this) is that we had visitors descend over Easter. In particular 5 grandchildren, their parents and  our brother in law, who is an equine vet from the South East. Walking round our hay meadow I pointed out the huge number of sycamore seedlings that have germinated in certain areas of this field this year. It’s clearly been a mast year for them on our land, when the trees have produced vast numbers of viable seeds, which given the short, weaker grass in this field, after 4 years of burgeoing yellow rattle, have seized their moment to germinate. But John commented that if this had been one of his client’s fields in Surrey, they’d have been panicking, since there are now recognised serious poisoning incidents in horses which either ingest sycamore seeds in the autumn, or, as seedlings in early spring. I’d never heard of this before, so thought I’d mention it here for those readers who use horses as part of a meadow management programme.

The seeds/seedlings apparently contain a toxin which can cause an unusual acute myopathy ( muscle degenerative condition) with knock on effects on the kidneys and heart. It is frequently fatal, but aggressive early symptomatic and supportive veterinary treatment can help with recovery rates. Click here for one of a number of helpful articles with more information, from a large specialist equine practice.

Fortunately sheep appear much more tolerant, but given many extra pairs of little hands, and the need for a bit of healthy outside activity, as well as the annual Easter egg hunt, we all indulged in a bit of manual pulling up of sycamore seedlings, and much to my surprise the youngsters’ patience exceeded my back’s ability to bend over. (And I did provide disposable gloves for those little pinkies, and insisted on thorough hand washing on our return !) So although not having removed them all, at least we’ve knocked numbers back a bit, in one area of the field.


Thanks again to Andrew, here are some bumblebee training events which are taking place this summer, organised by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. For more information on any of these, please get in touch with Sinead Lynch, the area officer for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust… 

05/06/2017 Beginners bumblebee identification training day @ Scolton Manor, Pembrokeshire This event is yet to be confirmed – booking with Ant Rogers>
29/06/2017 Volunteer survey day at Kilpaison bunds, Pembroke
30/06/2017 Advanced bumblebee identification training @ Denmark farm, near Lampeter – for recorders with some familiarity with the common species Book with Denmark Farm
01/07/2017 Meadows day at Llanerchaeron, Aberaeron (bee walk)
02/07/2017 Volunteer survey day at Carmel  NNR near Cross Hands, with Llanelli naturalists and WTSWW
25/07/2017 Volunteer survey day at Denmark farm near Lampeter
26/07/2017 Wildflowers and bees walk @ St Dogmaels, Pembs, with ‘The People’s Orchard’ Details to be confirmed
27/07/2017 Beginners bumblebee identification training day@ St Dogmaels Details to be confirmed. Booking will be essential
28/07/2017 Rare bee surveys – Chapel fields and Freshwater east dunes
18/08/2017 Bee walk at Caerhys Farm harvest festival, St David’s
23/08/2017 Volunteer survey day at St Dogmaels
30/08/2017 Beginners bumblebee identification training day @ Dinefwr near Llandeilo This event is yet to be confirmed – let me know if you’re interested. Booking will be essential
31/08/2017 Volunteer survey day at Pembrey burrows with Carmarthenshire Council


Thanks for reading, and remember I’m always happy to receive any suitable articles or photos to include as blog posts. Send them to me…

Julian Wormald…

2 thoughts on “Rush Control – Weed Wiper Hire Scheme; Sycamore Seedlings and Toxicity to Horses; Bumblebee Events.

  1. Julian, Heard on Radio 4 about a Plantlife Campaign about managing roadside verges like meadows to encourage wildlife - . Perhaps something our members may be interested in supporting to get Carms CC to become more favourable to better verge management? Really enjoy your blogs and also keep aiming to do your summary document about our meadows.

    All the best

    Charles Wenallt SA199TP



    • Hello Charles,
      Thanks for the comment and link, which I missed yesterday morning. I shall try to mention it in my next posting. I’ve always thought this is of real value, but then I recently heard a passionate talk by the ecologist Ray Woods, who argued that it was a really sad state of affairs when we had so little wildflower habitat left that promoting the merits of roadside verged and islands for insect life – where the insects will be at high risk of respiratory impact from vehicle emissions of being splatted on radiator grilles was a curiously unimpressive goal for a society trying to preserve its wildlife and ecosystems. For plants I guess verges are fine, but again meadows are better – and at least in Carms. we still have loads of opportunities to preserve these. I’ve now had a few more meadows to feature on the gallery pages when I get a chance – spring is always so busy here, but would be great if you managed to get the questionnaire done sometime,
      best wishes


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