News. Bulrush Harvesting at the Estate ponds

15th of October, 2018

It’s a misty – and rather damp – late summer morning in Ayrshire and while, for many, the day has not quite started, Dumfries House Estate workers are in the middle of a decidedly soggy task. Dressed in waders, they are partly submerged in one of The Arboretum’s ponds. A sure sign that it’s bulrush harvest time.

The bulrushes surrounding the ponds give height and definition to the water’s edge, but they are also an integral part of the aquatic ecosystem. They work alongside oxygenating plants – such as water buttercups, water forget-me-not, sedge, marsh marigold and barred horsetail – to create a balanced environment. Yet, as Brian Corr, Head of Gardens at Dumfries House explains, they also need to be carefully managed.

“This type of bulrush is called typha angustifolia,” he says. “It’s a hardy, deciduous, rhizomatous perennial, which means it has horizontal roots. So if left unchecked, it can be quite invasive.”

Rush harvesting is gruelling work – uprooting the plant while sinking into the pond’s muddy beds requires balance and stamina – but it’s a task that the younger members of the team relish. Many employees involved in rush harvesting have taken the Woodland Management course, run in partnership on the Estate with The Prince’s Trust. The course aims to provide unemployed 16- to 25-year-olds with the opportunity to gain work experience in a chosen field.

When it comes to controlling the plants, it’s a fine balance; if left unattended, the rushes can easily take over the entire pond, but too much, and there is not enough shelter or protection for moorhens and coots, the Estate’s wetland birds. So while the job might be arduous, it’s essential to the wellbeing of the pond and its inhabitants.

Words:Marie-Louise von Haselberg

Photography:James McNaught