Grazing is the best way to manage Devon's scarce culm grassland. But where that's lapsed, as it has on Popehouse Moor, swaling (burning the grass) in late winter is the best remedial option.
Simon Berry, from the Devon Wildlife Trust, came to show us how to do it - the prospect of holding a match to a field of dead grass was rather daunting! But by burning against the wind, rather than with it, and using a fire break and beaters, it all stayed safely under control. The fire was swift. Ideally, it would have been more thorough, but the ground was absolutely sodden.
Half way through, Ian an spotted something round burning amongst the grass stems and pulled it out. It was a tiny woven ball. Simon reckoned it could have been a harvest mouse's or a dormouse's summer home - they weave a little bundle of a nest amongst the grass stems. We'll be asking a mammal expert to find out for sure. Dormice are such lovely creatuers - it would be wonderful if they're here. We have all the right ingredients - hazel woodland, honeysuckle (they strip its bark to line their nests) and of course our culm.
So at the end of February we set light to about half of our precious nature reserve! We'd been waiting for a cold bright snap to dry the grass, but it never came. Already the plants were showing spring growth, so we couldn't delay much more.