The National Trust's Wicken Fen is a National Nature Reserve with 650 acres of wetland of European importance offering primary habitats for a number of endangered species. Additionally, as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) it requires expert maintenance using specialist techniques.
Senior Warden James Selby has the complex task of specifying machinery which can be productive over the vast area of land while coping with its unique challenges.
Reliable, all-terrain transport is essential to cross the extensive tracts of land, and two Kubota RTV 900s fulfil this role ideally. James comments: "We trialled the RTV900 against two other leading makes and it was the only utility vehicle with the torque to pull itself out of the wet holes on this land. It is also considerably more robust than others on the market, which is vital in this harsh environment."
Bench seats and an open cab have been specified to give the ease of access needed when operators need to frequently get in and out of the RTV. James works closely with local Kubota dealer, Thurlow Nunn (TNS), and the partnership has yielded some special adaptations for the RTVs. One is equipped with a canopy over the cargo box to keep tools, 2-stroke fuel, equipment and volunteers' gear dry. The other has a cage to protect operators from the horns of the inquisitive Highland cattle which graze the Fen, while they are undertaking jobs such as ear tagging.
A 40hp Kubota STV40 compact tractor is used to power a Kuhn disc mower and to cut vegetation on the sedge fen, conserving two European designated habitat types by cutting on a one year and a three year rotation. James explained, "We need low impact tractors with big tyres as the peat fen is extremely soft - the consistency of full fat milk. But we can only cut from July to September as the ground is too wet otherwise, so a high output is crucial, and Kubota's powerful range of machinery offers this."
Mowing removes competitive plants and encourages favoured species such as milk parsley, the preferred diet of swallowtail butterfly larvae. The cut material is then turned before removal from the fen by a buckrake mounted on a 14 year old Kubota L3600. James again, "We take the cut material off the fen to remove nutrients (nitrates and phosphates) that would encourage competitive species and to allow germination. The STV40 was originally intended to take over the buckraking, but we have kept it for mowing as the 'heel and toe' action offered by its hydrostatic transmission is so efficient that we have been able to halve the time previously taken to cut the fen. Working with TNS, we have added wide rims, the largest possible tyres and added protection through a 'belly pan' and guards fitted to protect filters etc. The 'bi-speed' feature is a god-send especially when cutting and the hydrostatic heel and toe means no shuttle or changing gears which is why we save so much time. The L3600 is also extremely powerful for its size and has shaved a third off the time taken for buckraking by being able to handle larger loads. This not only cuts our fuel use, but more importantly enables us to get the job done in the short time period available."
For topping of the larger areas, a 95hp Kubota M9540 and Agrimaster flail is used to tackle the dense, woody material, with the big tractor offering the extra ground clearance needed. TNS have also fitted winches to the front of both tractors so in the event of a tractor becoming bogged down, operators can carry out recoveries themselves.
"The relationship with TNS and their understanding of the conditions that we work under has been crucial to our success with Kubota machinery," comments James. "Spares are quickly and readily available too, and as the machines are straightforward to maintain, we can do most servicing in-house. Kubota tractors are also easy to use and was an important factor because Wicken Fen has a high number of volunteers who are usually new to operating tractors."
He continues: "Working with TNS, we were also able to get an excellent deal on the machinery, and it represents exceptional value for money compared with other popular brands. Like many charities, the National Trust has a limited cash flow and sourcing competitively priced equipment is important. Very occasionally we do get breakdowns and things don't work quite as well as planned, however TNS (Pete Warner - Sales and Dick Hill - Servicing) genuinely care and help to make everything work, so we have a genuine partnership."
The next project for TNS will also help the Trust boost efficiency - a front end loader fitted to the M9540 will enable James and his team to move materials themselves without having to engage contractors.