The Little Red Tractor

Friends of the Quantocks is an active partner in the Quantock Landscape Partnership Scheme – the National Landscape’s five-year programme of work. Some of our financial contribution has gone towards the purchase of an alpine tractor, a special piece of kit that will help in restoration work and maintenance across the hills. QLPS Manager Bill Jenman explains how:

“In March 2022 the QLPS took delivery of an Alpine Tractor from Rico Ltd. Alpine tractors are small but powerful vehicles with a low centre of gravity, ideal for the sort of terrain and jobs that we need doing in and around the Quantocks.

The Farming in Protected Landscapes grant scheme was able to fund the purchase of the associated kit – a robust flail mower and a winch – for the QH National Landscape team, but not the tractor itself (Defra rules…) so it was fortunate that the members of the QLPS could provide the motive power.

The tractor has already proved invaluable on the hill for bracken mowing on otherwise inaccessible slopes and tight corners, and it can also tackle mature gorse, reducing it to shreds. It can cut through heather and gorse stands to make excellent firebreaks.

It has been used extensively at Alfoxton as part of the parkland restoration work there that the QLPS has undertaken with the Alfoxton Park Community. Even on 30 degree slopes the flail can mulch its way through dense 3m high bracken stands and the underlying 20 years’ accumulated bracken litter, as well as the bramble thickets that were strangling the smaller trees and nectar bearing shrubs.  The ability to offset the cutter is especially useful in getting under the canopy where necessary. The limiting factor is not the power or stability of the tractor but the ability of the wheels to grip.

With three cuts in the first year, several hectares of dense bracken around Alfoxton House have been returned to grassland and we are now working our way further upslope, liberating hawthorns and young trees as we go.

The tractor has also been used at Broomfield Common for mowing the glade there, part of our legacy and exit strategy of empowering the local community to continue to manage the site once the QLPS has finished.

So far, we have trained the two National Landscape Rangers, two QLPS staff, the three apprentices, two NL volunteers, three people from Broomfield, and four people from the Alfoxton Community to LANTRA standard.

The tractor can be hired from the QHNL for a nominal sum for conservation work by any group in the area. Users must be LANTRA qualified and the group must have insurance for any damage to the vehicle that happens while they are operating it (if it should be damaged, repairs would be expensive!). Fortunately, it seems so far to be simple and cheap to wrap up this cover in the normal liability insurance that such groups routinely hold anyway.

The other limiting factor is that the tractor is not road legal so it must be delivered and collected by one of the Rangers on the trailer. This means that booking ahead is essential, and that also helps us prioritise works at times of peak demand such as the start of the bracken mowing season in July.

The tractor is owned and maintained by the QHNL team (through the Council’s vehicle fleet service) and will continue to be held by them into the future. It is based at the QHNL’s West Bagborough workshop.”