Volunteers in action

Our volunteers help us massively and hopefully, we help them too.

In the woods team we quite often have a full-time volunteer working with us.  They get to shadow us, join in our day to day work and gradually we introduce them to the skills of our trade and collectively we get a lot more done together.

Our most recent volunteer was Henry.  Henry was with us for a little over a year and saw the whole cycle of our work schedule, there’s more to forestry than just cutting down trees.  Over the period of a year our volunteers often get to be involved in all the stages of a woodland’s life; preparation, planting, thinning, harvesting, milling and construction. Not to mention all the side roles of a ranger, whether that be digging drainage ditches or being dropped up the hill by helicopter.  See some of Henry’s year in the slideshow below.

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Henry isn’t the first of our volunteers to move on successfully, you can find quite a few of our previous volunteers working in the trees or in the conservation sector.  It is great to see them all develop and get to grips with the work and move onto employment.  The only downside is they leave just as they get really good.

Some haven’t left; it is now 10 years since I turned up in the yard as a volunteer with the aim of getting better at forestry so to find work in the sector.  Some would say that progress is questionable, but I am still here and learning and getting to share the experience I have gained with other newcomers, but now as a member of staff.

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Here I am in my early days, clefting oak for a tree guard – with a four-legged friend checking out my work

We will start recruitment for a new woods volunteer at the beginning of 2017 where they’ll get to hit the ground running in the midst of our felling and planting seasons.  Keep an eye out on our Facebook and Twitter pages or take a look at the National Trust Volunteering website where there are even more opportunities and locations if the woods of the Brecon Beacons aren’t for you.

Tim
Woodland Ranger and former full-time volunteer

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

Where have all the footpaths gone?

Over the last few years the high rainfall and snow falling nearer to spring time combined with a couple of poor years in the growing season and an increase in large groups walking the hills, have resulted with the Beacons beginning to erode once more.

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Storey Arms path suffering from rising water

In the past, walkers along with the weather had worn down some of the footpaths and the surrounding areas up to 2.5m deep. Due to a lack of funds, we had not been able to build these back up to the original height resulting in them being a catchment for snow and rain.

 

Walkers compact the deep snow turning it into ice which everybody avoids. This results in people spreading out to look for the shallowest snow to walk on leading to a new section of land being worn away. The increase in walkers causes this erosion to get deeper and wider with some areas having seen a soil loss of up to 10cm in one year. This occurs most winters.

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Pont ar Daf – walkers avoiding the compact snow

Due to the erosion, we have to revegetate the area after every winter if we want to prevent further loss of soil. But I have noticed the damage from this recent winter is worse as more and more large groups climb to the summits and continue to spread out.

 

Throughout the spring the weather

L&M NTV sitting down breaking up the ground to sow the seed.

National Trust volunteers working hard to repair the footpaths

remained cold which delayed our revegetation work by several weeks on all the major access routes, so we did not begin work until the end of May. With the help of a group from Pontypridd and London & Middlesex, these National Trust volunteers provided vital help on the path leading up to Corn Du from Storey Arms by digging ditches, breaking up the compacted ground and starting to spread grass seed and fertilizer to give the land some much needed nutrients.

At the end of June we will be airlifting over 100 tonnes of sandstone scalpings (small stone and dust) on to the Storey Arms to Corn Du path. This is the only stone we are permitted to use and we will be doing this because the scalpings airlifted 11 years ago have now all but eroded away.

Look out for the next blog from the access team where we will update you on the footpath work following the airlift.

Thank you

Rob – Lead 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

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

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