Wild Wednesday, Ponds & Footpaths

I came to the Brecon Beacons in March to start a new role as ranger for the Sugar Loaf, Skirrid and the Begwns. There was a short period of getting to know my sites, which involved me in a Land Rover with a map trying to figure out where the heck I was. After getting to grips with the layout of the land it was headfirst into a busy summer.

The National Trust protects special places for everyone, so during the summer months a lot of energy and time is poured into getting people onto our sites and caring for and enjoying the countryside. Over the summer I’ve had a lot of fun organising the family activity days we run on the Sugar Loaf, the aptly named Wild Wednesdays, which are part of the National Trust’s 50 things to do before you’re 11 3/4 campaign to reconnect children with nature. Children are able to build dens, climb trees and hunt for creepy crawlies in the stream; it is amazing to turn over a rock and find a huge Stonefly or Caddisfly nymph and receive appreciative squeals of delight (and sometimes horror). It’s so rewarding to get families outside, interacting with their surroundings and learning something new.

The Begwns, a grazing common between the villages of Painscastle and Clyro is another one of my sites. I first visited on a cold and blustery March morning and was greeted with coldly stark yet awe-inspiring views of the Brecon Beacons, but I didn’t fully realise how exceptional this piece of common land was. My second visit was at night, wearing a fetching head torch and marching out with the local Ponds Group; led by the knowledgeable Hannah Shaw of the Freshwater Habitats Trust. We visited one pond and honestly it was like an aquatic metropolis; Smooth, Palmate and Great Crested newts marched towards the pond for their nightly activities and toads blinked at us from under the vegetation at the water’s surface. The ponds on the Begwns are veritable havens for wildlife, in fact they are so exceptional they have been made a Flagship Site for Wales by the Freshwater Habitats Trust. It is part of my job now to work alongside Hannah to monitor and protect these wonderful habitats.

Something I would never have predicted I would do over the summer is fly over the Beacons in a helicopter, it was during the airlift of stone to the Storey Arms footpath that leads to Pen y Fan. Thousands of people march up the hill every year and they all take their toll on the path. The upland team spend hours stone-pitching the paths and sowing grass seed on the eroded edges. As you can imagine the effect of thousands of people requires a lot of stone, which is where the helicopter comes in. Over the course of three days, over a hundred tonnes of stone was flown up the path. Since then staff and volunteers have worked hard using that material to make the path level and comfortable to walk on to deter people from veering to the edge. Go take a look, but do stick to the path.

It has been a busy, varied and wonderful year. For now there are parts of my sites that I am still yet to explore, gates to replace, events to organise, litter to pick and wildlife to be spied.

Commons Link Ranger



Out and about this summer

Hi everyone, I hope you have all been making the most of the summer and getting out and about. We’ve certainly had a busy summer here, and have been making the most of the warm (if slightly wet) weather!

Two of the main activities we’ve completed this summer have been monitoring and recording wildlife at various sites, and getting kids out into the woods and closer to nature. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind but fun and rewarding too.

With the help of our volunteer Ellie, survey work has mainly been focused at Parc Lodge farm, one of our sites which lies on the lower slopes of the Sugar Loaf near Abergavenny. Data has been collected on the flora so that we can analyse different areas of the farm. This will enable us to see if any of these areas have the potential to be managed in a more sympathetic way to improve the diversity of plants. This would mean working with the farmer to find a way to maintain the economic value of the land whilst enhancing it for wildlife.

Below you can see Ellie hard at work with the Sugar Loaf in the background and whilst surveying we came across this Common lizard.

Some of our other sites that have been monitored include fields around Coelbren. Three are of particular interest due to them being entered into the Coronation Meadows scheme. This project is part of the Coronation anniversary campaign to restore the UK’s threatened wildflower meadows due to a staggering loss of 97% of meadows in the last 75 years. The fields were harrowed and reseeded this spring and with the traditional hay meadow management that is being implemented, we will hopefully see a transition over time into a diverse and beautiful set of hay meadows.

Below is a pic of a Painted lady butterfly on a Devil’s-bit scabious at one of our meadows and our quad with the harrow and seed.

On a different note – this summer we also had a series of children’s events in the woods near Henrhyd Falls. Kids these days spend far too much time indoors, playing on their computers or iPads, and these activity days are aimed to give families an opportunity to spend some quality time together outside, learning about the amazing wildlife we have on our doorstep. We had plenty of activities from den building, making natural paints and constructing bug hotels to name just a few. Here are some photos to give you a taste of what everyone got up to…

If you are interested in coming out, keep an eye out for events in October half term which will be Halloween themed. Locations will include Abergavenny and Coelbren.

Jess, Conservation and Engagement Ranger

Brecon Beacons first rock art discovered

The first prehistoric rock art to be found in the Brecon Beacons, was recently discovered on ground cared for by the National Trust.

rock art

Brecon Beacons first art?

Alan Bowring (Fforest Fawr Geopark Officer) unexpectedly noticed a series of prehistoric engravings late last year whilst surveying on our ground – thought to be made by prehistoric farming communities thousands of years ago.

Alan, a geologist, was out investigating geological features on land managed by the National Trust and spotted a rock with some unusual markings on it.  Sensing this was unusual – he sought further advice from colleague Natalie Ward (Brecon Beacons Nationla Park Archaeologist) who had experience of recording such artefacts in the North of England.  The National Trust’s own archaeological survey had already highlighted Bronze Age features in the area and gave some context to the stones past.  In collaboration the rock art has been announced today after checks have been completed on its authenticity.  

Dr George Nash, Archaeologist and specialist in Prehistoric and Contemporary art confirmed what Alan Bowring had discovered was the first prehistoric rock engraved panel recorded in the Brecon Beacons.  Dr Nash added that based on the shape of the stone and its engravings, it probably comes from the Early to Middle Bronze Age period (c. 2500 to 1500 BC) and it probably served as a waymarker in the form of a standing stone for prehistoric communities navigating around the ritualised landscape more than 2,000 years ago.

“We might have been able to predict a discovery of this kind considering the large amount of prehistoric ritual sites in the Brecon Beacons but this is the first evidence of prehistoric rock art to be ever recorded.  There are no other later prehistoric standing stones within this part of Wales that are cupmarked (small hollows), making this one rather unique”, says Dr Nash.

rock art closer

Can you see the cupmarks?

The stone is approximately 1.45m long and 0.5m wide and the face contains 12 cupmarks of various shapes and sizes.  It is currently lying flat on the ground but it is possible that it once was standing (further archaeological investigation may be able to confirm this).   Dr Nash explains that cupmarks are the most common later prehistoric rock art form in the British Isles and Europe, but their occurrence in mid-Wales is rare.

Joe Daggett, Countryside Manager for the National Trust in Brecon said:  “Although I was initially  sceptical  about this stone’s markings the confidence in its origins is now clear, and it fits with the Bronze Age archaeology we have previously recorded in this  area.  We are really keen to get the right protection for this artefact and with BBNP support have been liaising with Cadw to start the process.   It is of utmost importance to protect this stone for future generations and to share this discovery in an appropriate way – a core purpose of the National Trust.   Our CBA Community Archaeologist, Charlie Enright, is arranging a number of archaeological recording and survey days in the coming weeks.”

Over the course of next week we will be undertaking a range of archaeological activities including:

  • Recording the stone with Dr George Nash.
  • Conducting a geophysical survey in the area surrounding the stone to see if we can find any evidence of past human activity below the surface.
  • Condition monitoring and a topographical survey of the surrounding archaeology.

Charlie added: “This is a fantastic opportunity to get local people involved in a multi-discipline archaeological project, work alongside and learn from professional archaeologists and other likeminded people, acquire new skills and contribute to our understanding of this fantastic site.  If people are interested then they should phone me straight away to book – places are limited!”

If you are interested in taking part – places are limited so please book by contacting Charlie Enright, Community Archaeologist at the National Trust charles.enright@nationaltrust.org.uk

No spade required

Fancy joining us on an archaeological survey?

Our community archaeologist will be surveying at Pont ar Daf next week, exploring the WWII tank defences and the old coaching inn remains.

13-16th February
For more information or to book a place on any of the dates above
please contact Charlie at charles.enright@nationaltrust.org.uk
Or check out Charlies blog – http://charlesenright.wordpress.com/

20140213 PaD Archaeology event