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

Working hard to keep footpaths open

As a relatively new ranger with the National Trust, I thought I would explain some of

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Trench dug and ready to lay pitching

my responsibilities and show what I have been doing. My position as part of the access team is predominantly responsible for the repair and maintenance of the Pont ar Daf and Storey Arms paths leading to Corn Du, Pen y Fan and Cribyn; here I use a number of methods to prevent erosion of the paths and surrounding hillsides, which without constant management can quickly deteriorate. 

The central Brecon Beacons have an average annual rainfall of approx. 2400mm compared with the nearby town of Brecon which on average receives just 1173mm. This level of water can rapidly deteriorate pathways as do other factors such as footfall. With over 200,000 mountain lovers visiting the highest peak in southern Britain (Pen y Fan) each year, erosion is a serious problem. To protect and combat issues like these we use stone pitching, which is an ancient method pre-dating the Romans. It involves laying large boulders in rows embedded into the paths (see below image), which is similar to cobbling but on a much larger scale and a very resilient way of surfacing a pathway.

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Boulders embedded into trench and packed with small stones and soil

We then cover the pitching with Old Red Sandstone scalpings which settles into the ground; this offers protection and a better walking surface. Along with stone pitching and scalpings, we create a number of culverts, cross and side ditches to keep the water off the paths. These are also stone laid for strength, longevity and ease of clearing out which must be done regularly.

Landscaping and reseeding grasses help us stabilise bare earth and blend in our work. I also work closely with our volunteers and those on working holidays who provide much needed assistance to maintaining the footpaths.

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A volunteer working hard on the Pont ar Daf footpath

In addition I also assist with family events such as Wild Wednesdays during the school holidays where we incorporate the National Trust’s hugely popular 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ including activities such as building a den, climbing a tree and damming a stream, all of which are set within the woodland of St Mary’s Vale and the Sugar Loaf.

I hope you can join us for one of our events on the Sugar Loaf, starting off with our Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday 26 March. Or if you come across me and the rest of the team working on the footpaths in the central Brecon Beacons, please stop and say hello.

Thanks, Huw Barrell
Ranger – Brecon Beacons

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

Our path ahead

A review of his activities over the busy sunny season from Rob and his plans for next year as the leaves fall and rain returns.

This summer has to go down as one of the best for many a year as regards the good weather. A minor blip in early August when the temperature went down to 4 degrees for a few days in the morning, That was a shock to the system, especially for some of our volunteers from Spain and Southern France who were on a working holiday with us up Pen y fan.

120 volunteers have been assisting me and Jessica through the year and we have stone pitched over 135 metres of path leading up to Pen y fan from Cwm Gwdi, we have seeded and reinstated 400 sqm of eroded ground, and we have so far, stone pitched 150m of side ditches leading up the Pont ar daf.

We're gradually making our way to the top with the help of volunteers.

Looking back on where we’ve come from. We’re gradually making our way to the top with the help of volunteers.

This November we are hoping to take up a further 32 tons of scalping’s and spread them over and build up the top section of the Pont ar daf path” weather permitting”

We will also be receiving a donation towards the repairs of the routes from WAAT4 challenge, which we will buy more scalping’s.

Our lengths group has increased by a further four members, so most of the paths now have two lentghsmen looking after them and we have also had a few days where some have come out to help us with stone pitching.

Our Meet & Greets volunteers have also increased by four with one doubling up as lengths men.
The new info shack at Pont-ar-Daf is opening its doors more regularly due to the new intake of volunteers. The new maps with routes on them have been a success and asking for donations has helped cover the cost of producing them, so there can be more for next year.

Getting wild in St. Marys Vale and ticking off 50 things activities.  More to come next year.

Getting wild in St. Marys Vale and ticking off 50 things activities. More to come next year.

We carried out a few 50 things to do events with children, again proven a success and this we will increase next year mainly down the Sugar loaf, Abergavenny. Our guided walks, 18 in all, sadly had very low attendance not always helped by bad weather, but our 5 walks with Monmouthshire community learning centre based in Abergavenny were well attended.

Sadly the Pont-ar-Daf car park is yet to take off, hopefully next year? The Skirrid car park extension is planned for happen next year and that will take about 50 cars, freeing up the  road for this increasingly popular site.

Rob – Lead Ranger, Brecon Beacons

What did you get upto this summer?

Getting kids outdoors and closer to nature
You may or may not have heard of the National Trust’s campaign – 50 Things to do before you’re 11 ¾…

This initiative was set up a few years ago in response to information about how today’s generation of kids are spending far less time outdoors doing the things we all used to do like climbing trees, running around in the rain and making mud pies.

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This summer, we ran a very successful bushcraft club at our site at Coelbren and Henrhyd Falls, with the help of local bushcraft expert Angus. The aim was simply to get kids out and about playing and thinking outdoors, learning new skills, making friends and having fun.

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Over the four sessions we did a whole variety of activities – firelighting techniques, whittling and sanding our own walking sticks, building shelters, making mini shelters for action figures, archery, toasting marshmallows, making our own paint and doing some cave paintings and aboriginal style art, cooking Welsh cakes on the fire, clay modelling, bug hunting and damming the stream!

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These are some of the pictures of what we got up to – everyone had a great time and got suitably wet and muddy!

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Keep an eye out on our Facebook page and website for more kids’ events coming up soon across our sites, the next one is a kite flying day on the Sugarloaf this Saturday the 30th of August with rangers Jess and Ben. There will also be things going on at Coelbren during the October half term so watch this space!

For more information take a look at the National Trust’s 50 Things website.

Beth
Community Engagement Ranger

 

The path ahead

2014 will be even more challenging than most years, as I have to recruit two new staff members, one seasonal to help me repair the footpaths on the Beacons from May to September and one to help me manage Abergwesyn, Sugarloaf, Skirrid, and the Begwns uplands.

This spring early summer will see us locating a shipping container that we will clad in timber and use as an information point in the Pont-ar-Daf car park, at last the meet and greet Wardens will get some shelter.
We are employing two landscape designers for the Pont-ar-Daf car park project.  They will begin in March and hopefully go to planning in April.

Rebecca Parton our business support co-ordinator and I are in the process of doing a Brecon Beacons leaflet (our first) with some info and a map with walks.
Our walking and events calendar has been agreed by all and is quite full with a good variety of challenges all over the properties (Brecon Beacons and Sugarloaf & Usk Valley), so you can do high level, low level and get the children involved in 50 things.
The remaining weekends are taken up with volunteer groups, we have Bath University, working holidays , London Middlesex vols, to name but a few.

Danish exchange students helping me in not so ideal weather - at least we can see where the water is running.

Danish exchange students helping me in not so ideal weather – at least we can see where the water is running.

This winter has been spent running around digging and then redigging ditches to try and control the water flow, the path work we have tried on the Pont-ar-Daf has been a wash out, elbow deep in cold water and mud is not good for the complexion despite what the beauticians tell us.
I acquired a second hand mini excavator this winter which will help speed up the ditch digging and path levelling, saving my poor back and of course those of my volunteers.

Dreaming of days like this...

Dreaming of days like this…

Rob
Access Ranger

Kids and kites on the Sugar Loaf

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Meet us on Saturday 17th August to take part in this family fun walk for the chance to tick off some of your 50 things to do before you’re 11 3/4.

Join our countryside rangers on this family adventure to the summit of the Sugar Loaf Mountain. As well as climbing a huge hill, you’ll be able to take part in hunting for bugs, finding your way with a map and compass and, weather permitting, fly a kite. The walk will be between four to five miles long, starting at 11am.

  • Please bring a waterproof jacket, warm, comfortable clothes, walking boots, a picnic and your kite.
  • Please meet at the lower car park on Mynydd Llanwenarth (SO 271163) on the right-hand-side, before the main car park.
  • Dogs on leads welcome
  • Children must be accompanied by an adult and must be aged 5+
  • Although there is only a gradual climb on the Llanwenarth, the ascent of the Sugarloaf is steep and becomes rocky towards the summit.

Booking Essential
Child £1 (adults free), book online or call 0844 249 1895
More Information: Hana Callard, 01874 625515, brecon@nationaltrust.org.uk