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

Looking for otters on the River Usk

In February I agreed to help Cardiff University with some Otter surveying on the River Usk. A previous survey had been carried out in the 1980’s, so the hope was that the new data could be cross referenced with the old.

A spraint amongst the flowers.

A spraint amongst the flowers.

A key part of this was to collect samples of ‘Spraint’. These are droppings that the Otters use to mark sites within their territory. By examining these under a microscope we can gather information on the health of the animal, the undigested fish bones give a good insight into the animals diet and what fish it preys upon in the river.

Favoured location, can you spot the spraint?

Favoured location, can you spot the spraint?

I surveyed several sights around Brecon along the River Usk and its tributaries and found signs of Otters at all of them. The flat stone and concrete foundations of Bridges seem to be a favourite place to mark their territories.

You can just about spot their prints.

You can just about spot their prints.

A section of the Usk I look after at Clytha was not part of the survey. As I have been out spraying Giant Hogweed I have found tracks and Spraint that show there is also a healthy population of Otters along this section of the river. This is surprising given its popularity with fishermen and dog walkers.  Here is a link to our river walk at Clytha.

Spraying to control the spread of Giant Hogweed, an invasive species.

Spraying to control the spread of Giant Hogweed, an invasive species.

Simon Rose – Area Ranger

On the hunt for wild words

NTBreconBeacons:

Words that we can’t do without.

Originally posted on National Trust Press Office:

We’re going on a newt hunt. We’re going to catch a big one.

Newt. One of the words taken out of the Oxford Junior Dictionary nearly eight years ago. Along with Acorn, Sycamore and 110 other words about nature and the countryside.

These are words disappearing from children’s lives. The National Trust, as one of the founder members of The Wild Network, is supporting the organisation in its new campaign to ‘reclaim’ the wild words which have been dropped.

Help us stop our 'wild' words from disappearing Help us stop our ‘wild’ words from disappearing

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Before things grow

One last blog article from Beth before moving on to her new job in Cornwall.

Hedgelaying at Lanlay: a race against time

Some of the management work we do on our sites has strict rules about what time of year it has to be completed.

Hedgelaying is a winter job, with the cut off date at the end of March. This is to ensure that our work does not disturb nesting birds and also to minimise damaging the trees health, as in winter the sap is down and they are less prone to infection.

Our site at Lanlay Meadows is in a Glastir agricultural stewardship scheme, and in order to get the payments to fund our conservation work, we have to complete certain work by certain deadlines. There was a very long section of hedge that had to be laid this winter, so we had a race against time to get it done before the cut off date.

It was a real team effort with lots of staff pulling together as well as many local volunteers.

Getting stuck in.  Hedges always seem to be full of prickly stuff.

Getting stuck in. Hedges always seem to be full of prickly stuff.

Hedgelaying is a traditional form of management across the UK, and, before fencing became cheaper and quicker, laid hedges were a common sight in the countryside. As well as being effective barriers against livestock, traditionally managed hedges are great for wildlife, providing crucial nesting habitat, food and shelter for many species, especially small birds. As you would expect there are many different regional styles of hedgelaying that have developed, depending on the livestock that has been historically farmed in the area .

We used the traditional Brecon style for our hedge at Lanlay. This style gives a dense hedge designed to keep sheep in, or out! The basic method is to firstly clear out any branches that are too small, too big, dead or growing outwards from the line you want your hedge, leaving just the stems you want to lay, known as pleachers. Each pleacher is then cut at the base with a billhook or saw, until it is attached by about a quarter of the original thickness and bent over. The laid pleachers are then woven around stakes driven into the ground at metre intervals to make a tight fence. The finishing touch is to use straight poles as binders around the top of the stakes to pin down any braches that might want to spring up.

All being well, the laid hedge will start producing shoots this spring, and in about 10 years time, it will be ready to be laid again.

Thank-you to all those that helped lay the hedge.

Thank-you to all those that helped lay the hedge.

Thank you to everyone who helped out on this project, we couldn’t have done it by the deadline without you!

Beth

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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.

Tim
Woodland Ranger

A review of 2014: the year of the biting fly

NTBreconBeacons:

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

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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