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

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


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

View original 377 more words

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!