The atmospheric views on the Hadrian's Wall Path

It’s Been Nice Mowing You

30th August 2017

Welcome to the Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail Blog, all about conservation on the wall, and the work of the Trail Maintenance Rangers. To kick off, we’re focussing on grass-swards and their maintenance along the path.

Swards are grass-covered soil, and cover much of the 84 miles of Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail. As such, sward cutting and maintenance is one of the main seasonal jobs undertaken by the Trail Maintenance Rangers; every two/three weeks, the team set out with sit-on mower, brush-cutter, and hedge-trimmer to keep the sward height under control. But this is no mean feat – it takes four days of work to grass-cut the Trail from Heddon-on-the-Wall to Bowness-on-Solway (a total of 68 miles)!

That being said, there are some grassy sections of the trail that the Rangers do not cut, usually due to how the farmer who owns that land manages it. For instance, if the path passes through land on which the farmer has cattle or sheep grazing, then the animal’s eating habits will keep the sward naturally short. Alternatively, if the field consists of hay, the farmer may take the opportunity to cut the grass along the trail, while cutting the hay. Or, as with the sward on Hot Bank, West of Housesteads, the footfall of numerous walkers will prevent the grass from growing as quickly. Finally, local Rangers may aid in maintaining grass length, as in the Newcastle region between Wallsend and Heddon.

The Rangers maintain the sward for several reasons, including for aesthetic, practical, and environmental purposes. Aesthetically, we want to ensure that the trail is presentable for the estimated 12,000 visitors it receives each year. Further to that, Trail Walkers need to be able to distinguish the Trail from surrounding areas, to prevent them from getting lost in the wall wilderness! This goes hand-in-hand with the practicality behind grass maintenance, as the Rangers need to make sure that the path is not overgrown, and is accessible to all walkers.

Environmentally, grass is known to be one of the most sustainable surfaces, and the 1 inch of sward on the path supports the variety of local ecosystems.

And finally, one of the most important reasons behind maintaining the Trail’s grass is to ensure the continued protection of any archaeology underfoot. The team mow the paths wide to persuade Trail Walkers to spread out, rather than walking in single file; this prevents wear lines in the path, which preserves the grass sward, which in turn helps to preserve the Wall itself, much of which lies directly beneath the trail.

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