Dinosaurs still have their uses
We said a sad goodbye to Tyrannosaurus Rex the other day— sad, because he had been sitting quietly in our field for a couple of weeks, resting from his recent exertions.
T. Rex (definitely not T. Regina) was our pet name for the 35-ton Japanese monster Komatsu earthmover, which has a reach of 72ft and the ability to dig down 55ft—happily, we only needed to go down about 10ft—that rid us of reedmace in our moat.
Reedmace is more commonly known as bulrushes, but the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary description is vague: the term bulrush ‘dates from 1440 for Scirpus lacustris, but is more popularly applied to Typha latifolia, the cat’s tail’, it says unhelpfully, adding that the name bulrush is also used for the papyrus of egypt in which Moses was found by Pharaoh’s maid.
Our reedmace was Typha latifolia and it had grown so thick and dense that even the moorhens had a job pushing through it. We had last had the moat fettled about 20 years ago, when it had to be dredged—and the house insured from falling into it.
At that point, some century’s worth of silt was shovelled out with a drag crane—another dinosaur in looks, but not as menacing as T. Rex. We had no choice because we weren’t allowed a vehicle on the floor of the moat itself.
This was fair enough, as it turned out, because the moat’s original, 14th-century base was still clearly defined, according to the dredger operative. I say 14th century because that’s the date of the house, but we had a moat expert round—did you know there were such people?— who told us that it’s not possible to date moat construction.
During those 20 years, the reedmace took a hold, extending itself like couch grass, its roots insidiously creeping under the soil and then popping up in unexpected places. What had been a clear sheet of water on which the house rode like a ship at anchor had become a morass of weed.
enter T. Rex and his operator, Colin: I’ve never seen such an unwieldy machine worked with such dexterity. The great arm would be poised delicately over a swathe of reeds, its powerful jaws wide open, before it would devour a hefty chunk of greenery.
Then, Colin would give the whole load a good shake and water would pour from between the teeth back into the moat like a rinsing at the dentist. The reeds were dumped on the field beside the machine, looking for all the world like its vanquished prey, in a movement that was both effective and graceful.
Colin picked up the mounds and took them to a large dump from where we later moved it. The silt from the roots was levelled on the field so that, in spring, the grass will come through, encouraged by the new, fertile soil.
T. Rex had done his job. He stayed quietly in the field, his powerful jaws raised to the sky, waiting for his next assignment. The moat’s water level temporarily went down 1ft, but is now back up to its normal winter level and, as far as we can tell, the mallards have stopped fussing and the moorhens have a free run on the water.
Our ship is back at anchor. The only doubt is whether the dragonfly nymphs have been disturbed, but spring will tell.
It wasn’t easy to get T. Rex out of our sodden field, along a country lane and through the village. His exit involved a low loader with a police escort and the lane was closed for an hour. Thanks for everything, T. Rex!
I’ve never seen such an unwieldy machine worked with such dexterity’