The View from Northern Ireland: Rushes are a common feature on many farms throughout Northern Ireland and are usually found in damp ground conditions associated with heavy clay soils.

Small areas of rush can favour many ground nesting birds such as the curlew and the snipe. They also provide cover for the Irish hare and many small birds such as the meadow pipit. Heavy infestations, however, have an adverse impact on both the grazing value and the diverse range of plants found in the sward.

Farmers participating in an agri-environment scheme must carry out rush control where the rush cover is more than a third of a field. Rushes should also be controlled to prevent them dominating the vegetation.

If rushes are not controlled and are not capable of being grazed this may be regarded as a breach of Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) which could have implications for Single Farm Payment and other direct payments.

Rush control can be carried out in a variety of ways. The main ones include topping and weed wiping. With the exception of improved grassland, participants in an agri-environment scheme should only control rushes from 15 July – 15 March each year in order to protect the chicks of ground nesting birds and the offspring of the Irish hare.

Agri-environment participants who cannot carry out rush control as required under their agreement should contact Countryside Management staff.  Approval may be given for alternative methods of rush control.

Topping has been the traditional method of rush control on many farms and when rushes are frequently topped they are more palatable for livestock.

However, if it is difficult to access land where rushes are growing because the ground conditions are unsuitable, weed wiping may be used as a method of rush control. This is where a herbicide, such as glyphosate, is applied directly to the rush. The rushes should firstly be topped when ground conditions and dates are suitable and herbicide applied to the young re-growth.

The addition of a wetting agent to the herbicide will enable the liquid to stick to the waxy leaf resulting in a better kill rate. Many farmers are now using All Terrain Vehicles (ATV’s) to operate weed wipers which can be very useful where ground conditions are unsuitable for larger machinery. Weed wiping, however, is not permitted on species rich grassland without prior written approval or on breeding wader / lapwing sites at all times

For more information about rush control or other aspects of countryside management, please contact your local DARD Direct office.

Rush eligibility and management is one of several topics that will be discussed at two forthcoming events entitled Sustainable Farming in the LFAs which the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) and Countryside Management Unit, together with leading land based organisations, are organising details as follows: Greenmount Hill Farm, Glenwherry, Co Antrim on Tuesday 24 September 2013 and Russell Scott’s Farm, Newtownstewart, Co Tyrone on Thursday 26 September 2013.

By Ian Browne, Countryside Management Delivery Branch, Department of Agricultural and Rural Development