Let’s go down to the woods today

It has been just over 4 years since we started our work at Pont-ar-Daf, the woodland at one of the busiest access points to Pen-y-Fan.  When we first arrived on site, it was a neglected and unmanaged commercial crop.  A study of the site carried out by our nature conservation team considered it to be of little value to nature, the highlights being a strip of old birch and oak wood running through it at the north end, a drainage ditch at the south end and a failed Scots Pine crop in the middle, each being quite significant for the species found in them.

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Work only just starting at the beginning of 2012

The wood has changed somewhat since then, rapidly at first with the discovery of a disease in the larch trees (Phytophthora ramorum) and more gradually as we have improved access around the woods to allow for future management.  We are looking to maintain a mix of species of varying age.  The new tracks intersect old plough lines, in turn reducing run-off.  The intention is to keep these tracks as wide corridors to let light into the wood and give space for woodland floor species.  In other sections we are maintaining cover to preserve the humidity and moisture for ferns, mosses and other damp loving plants.

What has impressed us the most is the explosion of wildlife we’ve seen in the wake of our work.  One of our aims is to increase the nature conservation value of the site and by spending a lot of time there, we are seeing all sorts of things take advantage that weren’t before.

Frog spawn was probably the first thing we spotted.  With the harvesting machines not

Frog spawn

Frog spawn

long off site, they were quick to make use of the puddles left behind by the machines tracking across the hillside.

Apart from the trees we have planted (with varying success until we fenced out the sheep that wander the road), there has been a gradual increase in the natural spread of plants across the site.  Taking advantage of the light now making it to the floor, lack of competition and particularly the disturbance of the ground where we have been working and landscaping.  Various grasses and reeds have come up along with primroses, rosebay willow herb, foxgloves, heather, bilberry, marsh violets, gorse, bramble, bluebells and colts foot as well as some natural tree regeneration of birch, rowan and some of the conifer species that were on the site.  All the seed has been unlocked from the soil or come by natural means.

We have noticed a gradual increase in bird sound, particularly noticeable in the breaks from using machinery.  Just as the sound bursts in and you start looking around, you can see the birds.  Ravens, buzzards and red kites circle overhead, occasionally taking a perch in the tree tops.  Lower down, below the canopy and hunting for insects, we see tree pipit (a rare red status species), redstart (amber), treecreeper, robins and many members of the tit family.

Some species which may be considered shy can be quite brazen.  A quite unexpected spot

Red Grouse

Red Grouse in flowering heather

by Stuart our Lead Woodland Ranger was a Red grouse, walking past him as he stacked timber with the tractor.  It was picking its way through the heather, grazing its way up the hill, taking advantage of the new, young growth.

This was not the only brazen visitor to the woods.  We saw footprints and tracks in the snow criss-crossing the site, but one afternoon during a chainsaw course we were hosting, a fox popped up from the lower part of the woods, trotted over the top of a timber stack, observing the trainees and taking a leisurely walk around.  The fox watched them from a relatively short distance in the trees; one of those moments too busy watching to take a picture.

The increased sunlight and extra ground vegetation cover has allowed for a great increase in the number of sun loving creatures.  Butterflies and moths seem more frequent across the site, following access tracks and floating over the clear fell areas.  Pictured below is one we found whilst fencing the southern tip of the site.  It really stood out with the bright pink on black, sat on top of a yellow flower, unusually bright for a moth.

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Five-spot Burnet moth, spotted whilst fencing

Another sun worshipper, spotted sunning themselves on the tree stumps, or here on one of the old boundary walls, is a common lizard.

Lizard for blog

Common Lizard sunning itself

As we walk across the site we have seen various small mammals running through the maze of brash, only the briefest of glimpses as they run for cover, but looking like shrews and mice.

This leaves us with our most recent spot.  Most likely feeding off the small mammals and

Kestrel

Kestrel, hovering

reptiles, we’ve been watching a kestrel hunt for its lunch while we stopped to eat ours, watching it hover and dive, completely unfazed by a busy car park and walkers making their way up and down the hill.  So a plan for this year is to build a nest box for the kestrel, place it high and sheltered and see what happens.

A lot of this increase is benefiting from the work we are carrying out, but we have been spending a lot of time up there too and just being out there increases your chances of seeing the wildlife.

Tim – Woodland Ranger

A Very Merry Crafty Christmas

So Christmas has arrived once again, and to celebrate we have been making festive decorations for our gardens and Christmas trees at Coelbren Welfare Hall.20151222_124302_resized

The kids have enjoyed getting stuck into making some robin boxes to put up in their gardens, along with some bird feeder wreaths and of course some Christmas decorations for the tree, made from natural materials found just on our doorstop. Why not try making your own bird feeder wreath at home? All you need is some willow, pine cones, bird feed and holly or other greenery. All free materials (except for the feed) and good for the birds too!

The lead up to Christmas has certainly been busy this year, and one of the main projects I have been undertaking is laying the last half of the hedge at Lanlay meadows. The timing for hedge laying is during the winter when the sap isn’t running freely, there are no nesting birds and wildlife in general is at its least active.WP_20151110_15_31_27_Pro (2)

By laying the hedge, it is actually extending its life and producing a denser, healthier hedge that is stock proof and great for wildlife. It is important to keep hedges in good condition, not only to keep them stock proof but because they are great wildlife corridors that join up fragmented habitats and provide food and shelter to a variety of different species.

So if you are thinking of getting rid of your hedge and substituting it for a fence in your garden maybe think twice and do your part for conservation. You can benefit too by watching all the wonderful wildlife from your very own living room!WP_20151110_15_18_53_Pro1 (2)

Thank you to all who helped out with the second half of the hedge this year, a lot of different people gave up their spare time and it is greatly appreciated.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Jess
Ranger

First Snow of the 2015-16 Season Pen Y Fan Circular

From a couple of weeks ago when the hills looked more appealing. Also includes a nice circular walk starting from our Cwm Gwdi car park.

black mountains photography brecon beacons wales

With a forecast looking as delectable as this what better place to be to welcome the first snow of the 2015-16 season than the highest summit in the Brecon Beacons.

first snow forecast And with it being so so early in the season its only the 21st November. The excitement was building right across social media with it also being on a weekend, it was fantastic I do so love the almost tribal buzz with people all across the country getting excited about the weather and the landscape.

Trying to fight off the 12 year boy in my head and keeping my photography head on I started to plan the images and video I was going to try and record. With an abundance of people being out on the hills and gale force winds the place was going to have a dramatic feel for sure, and being partly inspired by the work of

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All change on the Beacons

Once again it’s been all change within the team this year, Jessica moved across in the summer to manage some of our lowland sites and Ben left the National Trust in the autumn, so welcome to Huw Barrell who started in July on the Brecon Beacons. He has been steadily sinking his teeth into the role but we are still one member of staff down at present to look after the Sugarloaf, Skirrid, Begwns and Abergwesyn; that will keep us busy during the winter.

We have spent a great deal of time this summer Volunteer groups building ditcheson the Pont ar Daf footpath with our volunteer groups. We have been building stone drain ditches to try and prevent the path and banks from collapsing inward and we have also airlifted 60 tons of scalpings (small stone and dust) onto the footpath to build up the surface and make it more hardwearing.

Building ditches in not such good weather

We have extended our Lenghts Group with six new members so hopefully maintenance on all footpaths will be covered. The Meet and Greet Volunteers were extended by a further two members but we still require more; Interested? Our Easter event and Wild Wednesdays with children have been very successful this year, they have all enjoyed the likes of den building and pond dipping down the Sugarloaf, we will continue those next year so look out for more details on our Facebook page and website.

We carried out a series of walks recently from Welsh Words in the Countryside on the Beacons to fungi spotting at the Skirrid, but unfortunately we had a low turnout for some of the walks. Our pond on the Begwns has become a flagship with the Freshwater Habitats Trust so we hope to have a few surveys carried out specifically looking at the endangered Medicinal Leech and White-clawed Crayfish found there next year.

Events are on the increase once again, we are now giving out licences and charging groups, who respectively charge their participants, and that money then goes towards the maintenance and repairs of the footpaths as there are no grants for such undertakings. We have also had a variety of filming take place all over our properties including BBC’s The One Show at Henryhd Falls and Iolo’s Beacons (out next year), S4C have ventured up Pen y Fan and several programmes based on special forces training, but using civilians, including Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Win. And a few adverts too.

Robert Reith

 

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.

Cheers,
Simon Rose – Area Ranger

Hungry?

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