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Close Sartfield, Ballaugh

Noted for its excellent bird watching opportunities this is one of the Island's largest nature reserves and is located between Ballaugh and Sulby.

Close Sartfield is one of Manx Wildlife Trust's larger reserves and is part of the Ballaugh Curragh, the Isle of Man's premier wetland.  The reserve derives its name from the fact that it was an enclosure ("close") rented over a long period by the owners of Sartfield farm in the neighbouring parish of Jurby whose home fields were often very dry in summer so that meadow hay from the damp Curragh fields was valued as a fodder supplement.

A panoramic view of the whole area may be obtained from the top of a specially constructed bird hide a few hundred metres from the entrance.  The line of hills from Slieau Curn in the west to Sky Hill and North Barrule in the east forms a backdrop to the landscape of meadows and willow carr of which the reserve is part. Level paths and boardwalks lead to the hide, though wellingtons are necessary off the boardwalk during flooded winter conditions.  The boardwalk provides for wheelchair access to the bird hide.

Close Sartfield is excellent for bird watching.  A variety of small birds depend on the many invertebrates that thrive amongst the rich flora and in the soft wet ground.  These in turn are sought out by birds of prey as well as animals, including stoats.Breeding species within the reserve include lesser redpoll, grasshopper warbler, reed bunting, sedge warbler, whitethroat, curlew and probably water rail.  Hen harriers are seen frequently throughout the year and the hide is well sited to observe their evening return to a mid-winter roost.  Visitors to the hide may be lucky enough to see a peregrine or a merlin.

A variety of soils within the reserve, ranging from light and sandy upon a substrate of late-glacial floodgravels to peats up to two metres deep developed on underlying alluvium in the wetter parts, supports diverse flora.  The flora of the haymeadows is outstanding from late May and early July when tens of thousands of orchids, including heath spotted, early marsh, common spotted, northern marsh and common twayblade, are in bloom.  Yellow bartsia, yellow rattle, lousewort, purple loosestrife and cuckoo flower are among the other grassland species present.  In the areas of peat, bog myrtle and purple moor grass are dominant.  Other plants of the wetter areas include bogbean, marsh cinquefoil, devil's bit scabious, marsh arrow-grass and cottongrass.  The magnificent bushy royal fern, largest of British ferns, turns a beautiful orange colour in the autumn.

Orange-tip and wall brown butterflies are common in season. Moths are particularly plentiful and a shaded pug, only the second to be recorded for the Island, was found in 1989.  The striking caterpillars of the elephant hawk moth may sometimes be seen on rosebay willowherb in the lane during late summer.  Damselflies and dragonflies are common throughout the area.

Common sallow is dominant in the scrub.  Downy birch is also becoming well established.  Other trees present in the reserve include holly, sycamore, ash and wych elm.  A copse of alders was planted in the long meadow in 1991.  Through the process of natural succession the development of extra peat makes the ground high enough for trees such as birch to start growing and the carr woodland turns into drier woodland.

The fauna of the reserve includes brown hare, rabbit, hedgehog, woodmice, pygmy shrew, stoat and polecat.  The common frog, the common lizard and bats are also present.

Management
A number of measures are taken to maintain and possibly increase the diversity of habitat.  The hay meadows are mown each year; this is essential for the orchids and other meadow flowers which might easily disappear if the fields were neglected.  The hay must be cut later in the season than modern silage-making practice allows, so that wild flowers may reseed.  Another management aim is to maintain a low fertility, so preventing dominance of rank grasses and giving more opportunity for orchids and other wildflowers.  Sheep are grazed in the fields during the winter so that the growth of rank vegetation may be controlled.  The willow scrub is controlled to keep a balance between old growth, young growth and open grassland. Positive measures to reinstate former meadowland have included the clearance of five acres of gorse in the long field, and the sowing of grass using hay bales from local hay meadows.  Five treatment areas within this field are being monitored, three of them on the basis of different sources of the meadow hay from which the new seed was derived.  Strips around the edges of the hay meadows are left uncut to allow over-wintering sites for invertebrates.  Future management will be based on systematic monitoring, including a programme of fixed point photography.  Recolonisation of quadrats from which varying depths of peat have been removed is also being studied.  No pesticides or fertilisers are used in the reserve as these discourage wildflowers and promote the vigorous growth of grasses.

How to get to Close Sartfield
Grid ref SC 358956.  From the TT Course (A3) turn on to the B9 between Ballaugh Village and Sulby Glen.  Take the third turn on the right and follow this road for nearly 1 mile.  The reserve entrance and car park are located about 25m along a track on the right.