The next challenge in the garden

This is what we are starting with...

This is what we are starting with…

This is the next challenge to tackle in the walled garden on the Clytha Estate. These old cold frames have seen better days as you can see!! The mental health charity, Growing Space, uses the gardens as part of its horticulture course and are very keen to be involved in the restoration project.

...helped by a donation...

…helped by a donation…

As luck would have it we were contacted recently by a lady who was taking down an old green house and was looking to donate the glass to a good cause, having heard of our earlier greenhouse restoration in the gardens. I went down to Bath last week to pick the glass up, there’s a mish mash of shapes and sizes, but we can make the frames to fit the glass.

...some steady driving...

…some steady driving…

We can use locally felled and milled National Trust timber for the frames, my carpentry volunteer Allan will profile it. I’m hoping that Growing Spaces will help clear out the growth and re-build the walls. This is what it should look like when it’s finished.

...for something like this.

…for something like this.

Simon Rose – Area Ranger


Now is not a time of year to find yourself going hungry whilst outside, so here is a quick look at what the woods team have been eating and keeping an eye out for and where.

First up, the staple of our outdoor diet currently, the blackberry.  Cursed all year for its thorns, now it is giving up it fruit.  We have mostly been working on our Monmouthshire sites where there is a great abundance of blackberries.  Up at Coed y Bwnydd, despite cutting back a lot of the vegetation, there are still plenty to be found at the boundaries and now we have cut the ramparts, you can walk their bases and get to the blackberries on the banks.  We are also finding a fairly plentiful supply on the paths around Clytha and over on the Skirrid.

Lots of big juicy ones this year.

Lots of big juicy ones this year.

We have seen a few plums and damsons on our travels, dropping their fruit and have been keeping an eye out for sloes, just out of the woods, through the wall and on to the hill at Skirrid is normally good.

Earlier in the year we found a good number of bilberry on the Sugarloaf and in some of its woodlands, but they are less plentiful now.

Bilberries earlier this year.

Bilberries earlier this year.

Keeping an eye on the hedgerows is a desperate race to beat the squirrels to the hazel to claim its nuts.  A common hedgerow tree, it can be found most places, but Coed Carno in the Upper Tarell Valley is our go to place.

This is also a time of year we start looking for fungus, initially to inspect the health of trees that we look after.  As they fruit they can confirm concerns we may have for a tree or reveal the start of an ongoing process of decay.  Whilst some are edible (such as the field mushrooms we found on the lawn at Berrington on a staff day out), others are very much not.  Later this year, we are running a fungi foray with the help of local experts and our volunteers on the Skirrid, more details here.  Incidentally, we also spotted this Shaggy Parasol up there today.

Shaggy Parasols, spotted today.

Shaggy Parasols, spotted today.

So there is some inspiration.  Only eat what you are confident is safe to do so, there are plenty of guides available (I quite like Food for Free by Richard Mabey) or join us on our Fungi Foray.
Don’t forget, if you are doing the 50 things challenge, blackberry picking is one of the challenges and possibly the tastiest to complete.

Stuffed full of blackberries,
Tim –Woodland Ranger

Meadow Life

Lanlay is a beautiful site that is comprised of 23acres of hay meadows and rhos pasture (rhos is Welsh for wet, so essentially a wet wild flower meadow). It has a mosaic of different habitats throughout the site so is great for biodiversity and supports a huge variety of wildlife.

97% of our wild flower meadows have steadily declined on a continuous basis since the 1930’s, which consequently has had detrimental impacts on the plant species and the wild life that depend on them. It is therefore vitally important that we preserve sites like Lanlay for the benefit of wild life and for future generations to enjoy.

Lanlay Meadows

Lanlay Meadows

Work on the meadow varies seasonally; a large part of the summer work includes the removal of an invasive species called Himalayan balsam. It is a particularly vigorous species of plant that if isn’t kept in check will take over, drowning out native wild flowers and reducing the diversity of the meadow. With the help of some working holidays, we have been pulling and crushing it in an attempt to control the spread of this species. It is important to crush the stems or it will re-root itself and keep growing. Even local dog walkers have started to get involved – you can often see small piles dotted along the sides of the paths that they have pulled whilst out on their walk.

Pull and crush.

Pull and crush.

I have also spent time monitoring the butterflies on the meadow. Each week I walk a set transect and record all of the species along the way. This information will be fed back to a national butterfly records scheme that is monitoring the fluctuations in butterfly populations throughout the UK. Here are some pictures of a few of the butterflies I encountered.

Some of this summers spots; Green Veined White, Common Blue, Gatekeeper, Speckled Wood.

Some of this summers spots; Green Veined White, Common Blue, Gatekeeper, Speckled Wood.

Winter is busier in terms of habitat management and I will soon be starting to cut back scrub and bramble that has encroached onto the meadow and doing lots of hedge laying.

Hedge laying in progress, earlier this year.

Hedge laying in progress, earlier this year. Want to get involved this season? See below.

If anyone is interested in getting involved, then please get in touch via the Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire National Trust website or Facebook page.

Jess – Conservation Ranger

Time for lunch?

My plan was to develop the seldom used over flow car park at Clytha into a much more user friendly area. The first job was to remove the old barrier and replace with some much more functional gates.

Custom made gates copying the estate style.

Custom made gates copying the estate style.

These would allow the public to access the picnic area but restrict vehicle access. A local engineering firm made up the gates using an existing pair as a template.

Bit of pruning back and digging required to fit.

Bit of pruning back and digging required to fit.

The opening had to be enlarged to allow for the bigger gates and the new posts needed to be concreted in to carry the weight of them

Gates in and benches in.

Gates in and benches in.

Allan, one of my Volunteers, has made up some picnic tables which I’ve sited at the near end. The rest of the area I’ve left to grow wild to encourage more wildlife and wild flowers. My hope is this will become a great little spot to sit and have a picnic.

Finished and waiting for you.

Finished and waiting for you.

Enjoying the flora and fauna as well as the local wildlife!
Have a look at our Clytha walks to build up that appetite.

Cheers, Simon – Area Ranger



Porridge and the Sugar Loaf for simple pleasures.
Also a great blog on just getting out there.

Originally posted on A Wild Year:

Though there have been many changes over the past months there’s also been a constant. A constant that connects us to our previous life and, doubtless, our future too.


Whenever the weather takes a turn for the worse, or the kids just don’t fancy anything we offer them, or we’ve run out of ingredients or inspiration or both, or we simply need a cuddle in a bowl it’s the thing we turn to. It’s not just about breakfast. Making porridge for the family is a wonderful act of nurturing. We tend to take it in turns to get up with H each morning while E sleeps in longer. The first job is to fill two pans and put them on the stove: one for tea and the other with equal quantities of oats, milk and water for a warm, hearty, sociable breakfast. Waking up to porridge, ready and waiting…

View original 387 more words

Coming and going

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been volunteering full time with the Brecon Beacons & Monmouthshire National Trust for three months now. When I started, fresh from half a year in New Zealand, I had no practical skills except what a few weeks with the National Park and Elan Valley and a few stints in rural Australasia had given me. Within a few weeks I had settled in, already enjoying learning the skills needed in upland conservation as part of the Access & Maintenance team. The tasks I have done have varied between painting the Omega sign at the top of Pen y Fan, to maintaining and clearing culverts.

Beth painting what is possibly the most photographed National Trust sign.

Beth painting what is possibly the most photographed National Trust sign.

Using the local sandstone to try and prevent water eroding the paths is a large part of what we do, whether it’s spreading scalpings on the Pont ar Daf path, or using blocks to construct side ditches and culverts. It’s this part that I really enjoy; the chance to get down in a ditch and create something that not only is useful, but will last one hell of a long time.

However, to do stone pitching, you need stone, and one of the most exciting days (of the year apparently!) was the airlift. Postponed and reorganised, one windy Tuesday morning saw a group of us waiting for a lift in a helicopter up to Bwlch Duwynt. We had bagged twenty-one tonnes of specially selected stone at Cwm Gwdi, and have had eighty more tonnes dropped off near Base.

My job was to let Rob know when the chopper appeared so he could direct them in, while I stopped walkers from getting too close. Not that it was that necessary; people were transfixed and I spent the day being in a million selfies and video clips.

Beware, flying rocks.

Beware, flying rocks.

Unfortunately my time with the Trust is soon coming to an end. I’ve secured a place on a trainee warden scheme with the National Park, but who knows, I might be back!

Beth – Volunteer Ranger

Sat in the sun, thinking of rainy days

Looking ahead to summer with its long warm days, firewood is on our minds.
Whilst summer doesn’t seem the right time to be thinking wintery thoughts, you need to plan ahead.

Once dry, the energy contained inlogs by weight is much the same, as demonstrated by the graph below taken from a Forestry Commission publication, so by weight, hardwood and softwood are on a par with each other. This doesn’t mean they are equal though.

05 Woods 01

The hardwood is far denser and will release its energy slowly, this also means that you have less volume than the equivalent weight of softwood. So softwood gives you more logs for the same weight that release their energy quickly. As with so many things, a balance is the best thing. Softwood helps get a fire up to temperature whilst hardwood can then hold it there.

A key word in the above diagram is ‘dry’, oven dry may be taking it a bit far in terms of efficiency of production. Also, unless you keep the wood in similar conditions, it will reabsorb the moisture. How long to dry wood? This varies between species and we find that a lot of wet timbers (Lawson cypress, alder, willow) give up their moisture quite readily when exposed and that denser, drier feeling timbers (oak, sweet chestnut) need a bit longer to dry out. I think it is best summed up by Celia Congreve in ‘The Firewood Poem’.

The Firewood Poem

Beechwood fires are bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year,
Chestnut’s only good they say,
If for logs ’tis laid away.
Make a fire of Elder tree,
Death within your house will be;
But ash new or ash old,
Is fit for a queen with crown of gold

Birch and fir logs burn too fast
Blaze up bright and do not last,
it is by the Irish said
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread.
Elm wood burns like churchyard mould,
E’en the very flames are cold
But ash green or ash brown
Is fit for a queen with golden crown

Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke,
Apple wood will scent your room
Pear wood smells like flowers in bloom
Oaken logs, if dry and old
keep away the winter’s cold
But ash wet or ash dry
a king shall warm his slippers by.

Keeping firewood stored somewhere dry with good airflow then is essential to keep the wood at its driest so that the most efficient burn can be had from it.
The wood piles also provide habitat for insects including bees, nesting places for birds, as well as sunny piles being popular with reptiles. We have quite often found lizards in stacks, or recently this slow worm in the stack of one of our customers.

Slow worm making a quick exit from our camera lens.

Slow worm making a quick exit from our camera lens.

Seasoned and dry is the key thing, which is why we have spent spring filling our log sheds for next winter with timber that has laid to dry for a year or more before being split open to further dry in sunny vented sheds for the winter ahead.

05 Woods 03

Henry loading the firewood processor.


Tim – Woodland Ranger