Common elements

Managing fire and water on some of the common land we look after.   Looking at our ponds on the Begwns near Hay-on-Wye and how we burn to promote grouse on the Sugarloaf above Abergavenny.

Sugar Loaf Burning

We recently spent a morning on the heathland to the north of the Sugar Loaf burning some of the older woody heather. The grouse that inhabit the area need the longer older heather to hide and nest within, but need young fresh shoots on which to feed. This management technique, when carried out over a number of years on different patches, creates an age and height diversity of heather that improves its conservation value. It looks very dramatic and is certainly an exciting activity to carry out! The recently burnt area will have new shoots of young heather very soon. Next time you’re on the summit have a look to the north and you’ll see the patchwork of burning and cutting management we’ve done over the years. And look out for grouse too!

Dramatic work this heather burning.

Dramatic work this heather burning.

The patchwork of heathland management work on Sugar Loaf.

The patchwork of heathland management work on Sugar Loaf.

Puddle or pond?

The rolling upland grassland that is the Begwns offer some of the best views of the Brecon Beacons. From its high point at the Roundabout, the northern edge of the Black Mountains, the Beacons and the Black Mountain dominate the skyline. And at only 415m the climb from the road is a gentle one, giving you the views without the effort!

The Roundabout on top the Begwns.

The Roundabout on top the Begwns.

The many ponds on the Begwns are its main conservation interest. The recently established survey group counted 14 ponds across the site, although more appear during the wetter winter months. Trying to find the 14 in summer can prove tricky as many of them dry up. These ephemeral ponds together with those than stay wet all year and those that only appear in winter are of great conservation value. It is better to have several ponds with different characteristics than one big pond – many ponds provide a great variety of different habitats. The ponds of the Begwns fit the bill perfectly.

The group helping us survey one of the many ponds.

The group helping us survey one of the many ponds.

Now you might think how is a dry pond good for pond life? Imagine you are a tadpole. If fish can survive in your pond because it stays wet all year, the chances of you developing into a frog will be lower! Another species that benefits from the seasonally dry ponds is a grass-like aquatic fern, the plant Pillwort, Pilularia globulifer. It grows on the damp mud and from a distance looks like a carpet of grass. It flourishes in habitats under a long tradition of heavy grazing as the Begwns has. A survey in 1998 recorded pillwort in 6 ponds. This had increased to 8 in 2014, with sheep the most likely to have spread the sporocarps between ponds. These are the ‘seeds’ of pillwort and only form when water levels drop exposing the plant.

Pillwort, growing in the damp, muddy margins.

Pillwort, growing in the damp, muddy margins.

Soon frogs and toads will be breeding in the many ponds attracting otters to the Begwns to take advantage of this food supply. A local photographer has pictured otters on the Begwns so we know they are predating these amphibians. Two polecat sightings have been confirmed recently. This is good news as together these native mammals will keep mink at bay due to the increased competition for food.

The ponds are a haven for many species of dragonfly and damselfly. For 2015 the British Dragonfly Society website will list the largest, Monks Pond, as one of top 8 places in Radnorshire to see dragons and damsels. Come summer you’ll see the impressive Emporer dragonfly patrolling its patch along with Broad Bodied Chasers and the Common Blue damselfly.

Ben – Commons Link Ranger

Creating Foresters

How do you end up a forester?

To quote David Attenborough “no one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced”

So to play our part in this we work with local schools to give them an opportunity to explore some of the woods we look after. We maintain forest school sites near the towns of Brecon and Abergavenny. Forest schools are areas we have created that school groups can come to, to explore their natural surroundings, get muddy, build dens and cook on fires. More than just an extended play time, these sessions get children up close to nature and encourage them to create their own adventure, to assess their own risks and test their own physical abilities.

One of our forest school sites.

One of our forest school sites.

Not everyone can make it out to our sites regularly, or at all, with pressures on schools to meet budgets and teaching targets. Here we try to help schools bring the outdoors to them. We help supply materials for schools to build their own outdoor learning areas in their grounds. Logs for teaching circles, branches for den building and material for projects.

Delivering materials for a log circle to one of our local schools.

Delivering materials for a log circle to one of our local schools.

We also work with our local Outdoor Learning Wales (OLW) Networks and have recently helped support teacher training in South Powys and the creation of a literacy training pack.

Teaching the teachers.

Teaching the teachers.

For those that have developed an interest in woodlands and decided they want to make a career out of it, we can help them take their first steps into the industry. Each year we take on a full time volunteer. In return for their time we offer them a chance to learn and practice the skills we use in our woodland management, from planting trees, right the way through to milling and making timber products.

One of our volunteers progressing on to felling bigger trees.

One of our volunteers progressing on to felling bigger trees.

If you are a teacher and interested in how your school could get involved, you can contact me through our social media, or find me at the Outdoor Learning Wales (OLW) Network meetings for South Powys or the Monmouthshire meetings in the north of the county.

Woodland Ranger

A review of 2014: the year of the biting fly


Love to see the review of the year in nature terms.
Recognise some of the trends here in Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire.

Originally posted on National Trust Press Office:

Extreme weather in 2014 created an unpredictable rollercoaster of a year for our beleaguered wildlife and saw a raft of migrant species visiting our shores, say experts at the National Trust in their annual wildlife and weather round-up.

As a result of the warm, often wet summer, this year’s wildlife winners include biting flies, slugs and snails. More positively, many resident birds, mammals and amphibians also had good breeding seasons, although the picture is patchy and localised.

Birling Gap, Credit National Trust Birling Gap, Credit National Trust

The year, however, will be most remembered for the winter storms in January and February; indicating the challenges that the natural world could face with the growing extremes of weather some of which may be caused by climate change.

National Trust rangers looking after the 742 miles of coastline cared for by the charity across England, Wales and Northern Ireland witnessed several years’ worth of erosion, while inland…

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A dawn raid on Pen-y-Fan

Originally posted on familydaystriedandtested's Blog:

We started our adventures for 2015 with a sun rise walk to the top of Pen Y Fan, the highest peak in South Wales. We started our walk from the Pont ar Daf car park located along the A470 a few minutes in a westerly direction from the Storey Arms.
We used this walked as a quality time slot with just the 10 year old with us…the teenager stayed home with the younger children and we were home for elevenses ;-)
We wrapped up warm (with spare clothes in our rucksacks to allow for change in weather) and took a flask of tea. Good walking boots are advisable and always tell somebody where you are going.

We started our walk from the car park 50 minutes before the sun was due to rise so had good light with the darkness fading, we followed the well defined path over the bridge…

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Holly and the Ivy

Just before Christmas we had a great decoration making event at our site in Coelbren. Lots of the decorations were inspired by and used materials collected from the countryside, including log reindeers and decorated pine cones. We also had a go at making wreaths. While I was out and about in the woods the week before, collecting greenery for people to use, I started thinking about the different plants associated with Christmas and wondering about the history of wreaths and why holly and ivy are festive plants.


The idea of a traditional Christmas tree dates back to the Victorian period, but for hundreds of years before this, people have been bringing greenery into their homes in the winter months.

In pagan times, people brought evergreen plants such as holly and ivy into their homes at the darkest time of year to ward off evil spirits, remind them that spring will come again and celebrate the promise of new growth.

More recently, Christian symbolism has been attached to the plants. For example, holly is said to represent the crown of thorns, with the berries as drops of blood. Ivy has to cling to trees to grow and this is said to represent people growing with God.

Many songs and carols have been written about holly and ivy and they are a core part of our Christmas traditions.

Wreaths date back to the Roman times, where laurel wreaths were worn as a symbol of status and achievement. Christmas wreaths are traditionally made from evergreen plants such as holly, ivy and laurel, which symbolise nature battling against winter. The shape of a continuous circle represents eternal life. Putting wreath on your front door is also a traditional way of welcoming people into the home in winter.

Finally, as well as warding off evil spirits, religious symbolism and festive cheer, bringing greenery into your home has been shown to have a positive impact on mental and physical health. In a time when society seems to be getting more and more disconnected from the natural world, Christmas is a time when we can really appreciate what is around us by heading out for a walk or bringing a little bit of outside in.

Pictures from our day of crafting are on Facebook.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from everyone at National Trust Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire!


Community Engagement Ranger

Stopping livestock, but not hedgehogs

Parc lodge cattle grids a

There are 2 cattle grids on the way up to Parc lodge farm. I had spent time and money repairing both of them over the years but they had got to the point of no return this year.  They were losing strength and not really stopping the livestock and there was no escape from them for wildlife that fell in.

Parc Lodge Cattle Grids b

I decided to go for 2 x 50 ton rated grids. Graham, the tenant, agreed to make a financial contribution for the new uprated grids, as well as helping out and making his tractors available to move everything around.

There were a few logistical problems; this is the only road access and it is used by another property as well as the farm. Picking days to close off the road that suited everyone, and sticking to them with the weather, proved difficult!

Parc Lodge Cattle Grids c

Because of the design of the new grids the central support pillars had to be removed.

Parc Lodge Cattle Grids real d

As well as making them wider so we could still fit 3 metre wide farm machinery over them. The old ones were made of reinforced cast concrete which was hard work to break up.

A compacted sub base was needed for the grids to bed into.

Parc Lodge Cattle Grids e

Here are the completed grids!

Parc Lodge Cattle Grids f

Parc lodge cattle grids g

They also came with drainage holes and hedge hog escape ladders – as standard!!

Simon Rose – Area Ranger


Our path ahead

A review of his activities over the busy sunny season from Rob and his plans for next year as the leaves fall and rain returns.

This summer has to go down as one of the best for many a year as regards the good weather. A minor blip in early August when the temperature went down to 4 degrees for a few days in the morning, That was a shock to the system, especially for some of our volunteers from Spain and Southern France who were on a working holiday with us up Pen y fan.

120 volunteers have been assisting me and Jessica through the year and we have stone pitched over 135 metres of path leading up to Pen y fan from Cwm Gwdi, we have seeded and reinstated 400 sqm of eroded ground, and we have so far, stone pitched 150m of side ditches leading up the Pont ar daf.

We're gradually making our way to the top with the help of volunteers.

Looking back on where we’ve come from. We’re gradually making our way to the top with the help of volunteers.

This November we are hoping to take up a further 32 tons of scalping’s and spread them over and build up the top section of the Pont ar daf path” weather permitting”

We will also be receiving a donation towards the repairs of the routes from WAAT4 challenge, which we will buy more scalping’s.

Our lengths group has increased by a further four members, so most of the paths now have two lentghsmen looking after them and we have also had a few days where some have come out to help us with stone pitching.

Our Meet & Greets volunteers have also increased by four with one doubling up as lengths men.
The new info shack at Pont-ar-Daf is opening its doors more regularly due to the new intake of volunteers. The new maps with routes on them have been a success and asking for donations has helped cover the cost of producing them, so there can be more for next year.

Getting wild in St. Marys Vale and ticking off 50 things activities.  More to come next year.

Getting wild in St. Marys Vale and ticking off 50 things activities. More to come next year.

We carried out a few 50 things to do events with children, again proven a success and this we will increase next year mainly down the Sugar loaf, Abergavenny. Our guided walks, 18 in all, sadly had very low attendance not always helped by bad weather, but our 5 walks with Monmouthshire community learning centre based in Abergavenny were well attended.

Sadly the Pont-ar-Daf car park is yet to take off, hopefully next year? The Skirrid car park extension is planned for happen next year and that will take about 50 cars, freeing up the  road for this increasingly popular site.

Rob – Lead Ranger, Brecon Beacons