Wild Wednesday, Ponds & Footpaths

I came to the Brecon Beacons in March to start a new role as ranger for the Sugar Loaf, Skirrid and the Begwns. There was a short period of getting to know my sites, which involved me in a Land Rover with a map trying to figure out where the heck I was. After getting to grips with the layout of the land it was headfirst into a busy summer.

The National Trust protects special places for everyone, so during the summer months a lot of energy and time is poured into getting people onto our sites and caring for and enjoying the countryside. Over the summer I’ve had a lot of fun organising the family activity days we run on the Sugar Loaf, the aptly named Wild Wednesdays, which are part of the National Trust’s 50 things to do before you’re 11 3/4 campaign to reconnect children with nature. Children are able to build dens, climb trees and hunt for creepy crawlies in the stream; it is amazing to turn over a rock and find a huge Stonefly or Caddisfly nymph and receive appreciative squeals of delight (and sometimes horror). It’s so rewarding to get families outside, interacting with their surroundings and learning something new.

The Begwns, a grazing common between the villages of Painscastle and Clyro is another one of my sites. I first visited on a cold and blustery March morning and was greeted with coldly stark yet awe-inspiring views of the Brecon Beacons, but I didn’t fully realise how exceptional this piece of common land was. My second visit was at night, wearing a fetching head torch and marching out with the local Ponds Group; led by the knowledgeable Hannah Shaw of the Freshwater Habitats Trust. We visited one pond and honestly it was like an aquatic metropolis; Smooth, Palmate and Great Crested newts marched towards the pond for their nightly activities and toads blinked at us from under the vegetation at the water’s surface. The ponds on the Begwns are veritable havens for wildlife, in fact they are so exceptional they have been made a Flagship Site for Wales by the Freshwater Habitats Trust. It is part of my job now to work alongside Hannah to monitor and protect these wonderful habitats.

Something I would never have predicted I would do over the summer is fly over the Beacons in a helicopter, it was during the airlift of stone to the Storey Arms footpath that leads to Pen y Fan. Thousands of people march up the hill every year and they all take their toll on the path. The upland team spend hours stone-pitching the paths and sowing grass seed on the eroded edges. As you can imagine the effect of thousands of people requires a lot of stone, which is where the helicopter comes in. Over the course of three days, over a hundred tonnes of stone was flown up the path. Since then staff and volunteers have worked hard using that material to make the path level and comfortable to walk on to deter people from veering to the edge. Go take a look, but do stick to the path.

It has been a busy, varied and wonderful year. For now there are parts of my sites that I am still yet to explore, gates to replace, events to organise, litter to pick and wildlife to be spied.

Kate
Commons Link Ranger

 

Down in the dumps – why all the litter?

I think we are all fortunate to live in such a stunning part of the country, and I feel especially so having a job looking after many of the special places that form part of this magnificent countryside.

As an area ranger I look after a wide variety of different properties including farms, estates, buildings, river walks and car parks. Working with colleagues as well as full and part time volunteers we engage with many people including tenants, customers, contractors and everyone else in between.

One of the challenges we face is litter! The term encompasses everything from the odd tissue that’s fallen out of someone’s pocket to stolen cars abandoned and burnt out. Along with other organisations, we seem to spend an ever increasing amount of time and resources dealing with this problem as we have to pay to dispose the majority of rubbish we remove.

As you can imagine car parks are a particular hotspot. People enjoying a take away and depositing the packaging out the window, builders dumping rubble etc. and people who make the effort to clear up after their dog but then sling the bag in a hedge or tree!! Yes seriously! Here are a few photos showing some of the litter I have been faced with.

It’s frustrating to think that dealing with this is taking time away from the core conservation work we carry out to preserve our iconic landscape. Maybe the increased pressures put on us by local authorities with regards to rubbish and recycling are contributing to the problem. Maybe the fast food and drink providers should look again at their packaging or how about us as consumers taking responsibility for disposing of rubbish appropriately!

On a lighter note I look at the way my kids are taught in school about how to recycle and look after the environment and I think there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Simon Rose
Area Ranger

Volunteers in action

Our volunteers help us massively and hopefully, we help them too.

In the woods team we quite often have a full-time volunteer working with us.  They get to shadow us, join in our day to day work and gradually we introduce them to the skills of our trade and collectively we get a lot more done together.

Our most recent volunteer was Henry.  Henry was with us for a little over a year and saw the whole cycle of our work schedule, there’s more to forestry than just cutting down trees.  Over the period of a year our volunteers often get to be involved in all the stages of a woodland’s life; preparation, planting, thinning, harvesting, milling and construction. Not to mention all the side roles of a ranger, whether that be digging drainage ditches or being dropped up the hill by helicopter.  See some of Henry’s year in the slideshow below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Henry isn’t the first of our volunteers to move on successfully, you can find quite a few of our previous volunteers working in the trees or in the conservation sector.  It is great to see them all develop and get to grips with the work and move onto employment.  The only downside is they leave just as they get really good.

Some haven’t left; it is now 10 years since I turned up in the yard as a volunteer with the aim of getting better at forestry so to find work in the sector.  Some would say that progress is questionable, but I am still here and learning and getting to share the experience I have gained with other newcomers, but now as a member of staff.

imgp5046

Here I am in my early days, clefting oak for a tree guard – with a four-legged friend checking out my work

We will start recruitment for a new woods volunteer at the beginning of 2017 where they’ll get to hit the ground running in the midst of our felling and planting seasons.  Keep an eye out on our Facebook and Twitter pages or take a look at the National Trust Volunteering website where there are even more opportunities and locations if the woods of the Brecon Beacons aren’t for you.

Tim
Woodland Ranger and former full-time volunteer

Out and about this summer

Hi everyone, I hope you have all been making the most of the summer and getting out and about. We’ve certainly had a busy summer here, and have been making the most of the warm (if slightly wet) weather!

Two of the main activities we’ve completed this summer have been monitoring and recording wildlife at various sites, and getting kids out into the woods and closer to nature. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind but fun and rewarding too.

With the help of our volunteer Ellie, survey work has mainly been focused at Parc Lodge farm, one of our sites which lies on the lower slopes of the Sugar Loaf near Abergavenny. Data has been collected on the flora so that we can analyse different areas of the farm. This will enable us to see if any of these areas have the potential to be managed in a more sympathetic way to improve the diversity of plants. This would mean working with the farmer to find a way to maintain the economic value of the land whilst enhancing it for wildlife.

Below you can see Ellie hard at work with the Sugar Loaf in the background and whilst surveying we came across this Common lizard.

Some of our other sites that have been monitored include fields around Coelbren. Three are of particular interest due to them being entered into the Coronation Meadows scheme. This project is part of the Coronation anniversary campaign to restore the UK’s threatened wildflower meadows due to a staggering loss of 97% of meadows in the last 75 years. The fields were harrowed and reseeded this spring and with the traditional hay meadow management that is being implemented, we will hopefully see a transition over time into a diverse and beautiful set of hay meadows.

Below is a pic of a Painted lady butterfly on a Devil’s-bit scabious at one of our meadows and our quad with the harrow and seed.

On a different note – this summer we also had a series of children’s events in the woods near Henrhyd Falls. Kids these days spend far too much time indoors, playing on their computers or iPads, and these activity days are aimed to give families an opportunity to spend some quality time together outside, learning about the amazing wildlife we have on our doorstep. We had plenty of activities from den building, making natural paints and constructing bug hotels to name just a few. Here are some photos to give you a taste of what everyone got up to…

If you are interested in coming out, keep an eye out for events in October half term which will be Halloween themed. Locations will include Abergavenny and Coelbren.

Jess, Conservation and Engagement Ranger

A volunteer’s-eye view

I’m the new Full Time Volunteer ranger at the Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire base and whilst I am here I will be getting involved in a wide range of projects with both the estate and the nature teams.

We have recently been busy maintaining the railings at Clytha, litter picking and

Pond at skyrrid

Early developments of the Skirrid pond

strimming around paths to keep the walking routes easily accessible and looking beautiful. We have also been busy landscaping a nature pond that will be surrounded by a grassland and picnic area at the Skirrid car park. It is early days for the pond, as you can see from the photo and our basic plan below giving you an idea of its location, but we hope to see lots of wildlife within and around it soon, such as frogs, newts and damselflies.

Preliminary Skyrrid pond plan

Basic plan giving an idea of the location

 

meadow brown

Meadow Brown butterfly

With the nature team I have been busy nature surveying. This includes a weekly butterfly survey at Lanlay where we have found many Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood and Small Tortoise Shell butterflies. We have also done many flora surveys and I have been blown away by how many beautiful plants are within National Trust properties in Wales. Due to careful maintenance and management of the land, especially controlling grazing levels, the National Trust has been able to welcome many plant species back to areas where they have previously been lost.Some of my favourite plants I have seen are: the elegant (pale coloured) Heath Spotted-orchid at Lanlay, the beautiful (deep purple) Southern Marsh-orchid at Coelbren – of which we found a whopping 48, and the primitive looking liverworts and mosses at Henrhyd Falls adding to its majestic atmosphere.

 

I am very much looking forward to the rest of my time with the Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire National Trust team and am eager to learn more about the important land management and habitat conservation work they carry out. I hope that some of you will venture out to see some of the amazing plants and places that I have mentioned above.

Thanks, Ellie
Full Time Volunteer Ranger

Where have all the footpaths gone?

Over the last few years the high rainfall and snow falling nearer to spring time combined with a couple of poor years in the growing season and an increase in large groups walking the hills, have resulted with the Beacons beginning to erode once more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Storey Arms path suffering from rising water

In the past, walkers along with the weather had worn down some of the footpaths and the surrounding areas up to 2.5m deep. Due to a lack of funds, we had not been able to build these back up to the original height resulting in them being a catchment for snow and rain.

 

Walkers compact the deep snow turning it into ice which everybody avoids. This results in people spreading out to look for the shallowest snow to walk on leading to a new section of land being worn away. The increase in walkers causes this erosion to get deeper and wider with some areas having seen a soil loss of up to 10cm in one year. This occurs most winters.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pont ar Daf – walkers avoiding the compact snow

Due to the erosion, we have to revegetate the area after every winter if we want to prevent further loss of soil. But I have noticed the damage from this recent winter is worse as more and more large groups climb to the summits and continue to spread out.

 

Throughout the spring the weather

L&M NTV sitting down breaking up the ground to sow the seed.

National Trust volunteers working hard to repair the footpaths

remained cold which delayed our revegetation work by several weeks on all the major access routes, so we did not begin work until the end of May. With the help of a group from Pontypridd and London & Middlesex, these National Trust volunteers provided vital help on the path leading up to Corn Du from Storey Arms by digging ditches, breaking up the compacted ground and starting to spread grass seed and fertilizer to give the land some much needed nutrients.

At the end of June we will be airlifting over 100 tonnes of sandstone scalpings (small stone and dust) on to the Storey Arms to Corn Du path. This is the only stone we are permitted to use and we will be doing this because the scalpings airlifted 11 years ago have now all but eroded away.

Look out for the next blog from the access team where we will update you on the footpath work following the airlift.

Thank you

Rob – Lead Ranger

Stop looking and let your senses take over

Bluebells 009a

Coed-y-Bwnydd bluebells

Whilst we have been busy encouraging you to go and see the bluebells at sites such as Coed-y-Bwnydd (Woodlands at Coed-y-Bwnydd article) and on the Skirrid (article on the Skirrid) with a good dose of images, what these don’t share with you is all the other senses you can only experience by getting out there.

This struck me recently after a recent walk around Coed-y-Bwnydd after installing a new information board by the main gate – more here on our Facebook page.  Walking around to see the progress of the bluebells; experiencing the cool and the warmth as I caught the sun’s heat that was waking the bluebells in between the dappled shade of the emergent leafs on the trees.  More so was the smell of the bluebells, growing stronger as the clusters of flowers got denser.

The smell of different trees is something I have been aware of for quite a while as a forester whilst we are felling or again as we process the timber into sawn wood or firewood.  A selection of smells, some trees are fruity like citrus or a watermelon, others are more plain like school dinner mashed potato and oak just smells like oak and nothing else.  The flowers and blossom that are now present on the trees are also intense and sweet, particularly hawthorn and burr cherry and especially gorse on a hot day.

Not all smells are so welcome, silage is a divisive one (that I like) and some go out of their way to smell bad, like this Stink Horn fungus.

DSCF0720

You can’t see how bad it smells, but you can see how popular it is with the flies

As you walk around, the sound of the birds builds and builds.  The distinctive call of the cuckoo is one that people listen out for.  At the start of the month we heard their return to the Upper Tarell Valley from where we are based and heard through Twitter of their return to the Sugar Loaf at the end of April (how odd does that phrase sound?).

There are a few tastes out there too for the forager right now, but the real bounty comes at the end of the summer as everything comes into fruit.

Stop looking at pictures and start being part of the scenery, close your eyes and see what you discover.

Tim – Woodland Ranger