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

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