Keeping our meadows special

Hay meadows and other species rich grasslands once made up a large part of the landscape in the UK and played a vital role in our natural and cultural heritage.  High nature value grasslands were found in every parish across the country but since the 1930s agricultural improvements have intensified, along with other developments, and today only 2% remain.  Nearly 7.5 million acres of wildflower meadows have been lost so far and they are still under threat.  What remains has become increasingly rare and fragmented so it is really important we maintain and revive the grasslands we have left.

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Cattle at Lanlay meadows near Cardiff

Looking after these meadows involves no chemical inputs, e.g. fertilisers or pesticides, with grazing being the most natural method of managing the land.  As the cattle graze across the landscape, they create a mosaic of different sward lengths, bare ground and micro habitats.  They are also less selective in what they eat and don’t just target wildflowers like sheep do.  This all contributes to maximising the potential for biodiversity on a grazed site.

Trampling creates areas of bare ground, which is beneficial in moderation.  It creates nurseries for seedlings that might not otherwise survive and habitats and hunting grounds for warmth-loving invertebrates and reptiles.

Dung creates a whole ecosystem by itself.  A range of wildlife move into a cowpat to set up home – more than 250 species of insect are found in or on cattle dung in the UK and these in turn provide food for birds, badgers, foxes and bats.

As part of my role I manage three sites, all of which have hay meadows and rhos pasture (wet meadows) among other grassland habitats that are of high nature value.  One of these is Lanlay meadows near Cardiff.

Grazing is an important part of the management of Lanlay.  Without this method of control, the vegetation would soon become rank and we would eventually lose some of the plants that make this site so special.  It has been a challenge to find a grazier for the site as it is small and tucked away, but this year we have finally managed it!

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Cattle arriving at Lanlay meadows near Cardiff

The cattle seem to have settled in nicely and are doing a really good job of munching on an invasive species called Himalayan balsam – which has spread through the wet fields in particular and is threatening to shade out lots of our native plant species.  We also cut the hay fields once a year in late summer (mid-late July or early August).  If we did it earlier it would prevent meadow plants from setting seed.  The cut grass is then dried on the field.  Turning and drying the hay on the fields lets more seeds to be shed and afterwards in late summer we allow the cattle in for grazing.

How can you help?
Are you a regular dog walker at Lanlay?  If so you could keep an eye on the cattle for us to make sure they are all healthy and safe.  Please get in touch if you notice any issues on 07483 905537 or 01874 625515.  Training may be available in stock checking if you are interested in monitoring regularly.

National Meadows Day

At another of our sites, Berthlwyd Farm near Ystradfellte (Waterfall country), we are having a free open day in the meadows on Saturday 1st July.  This is a unique opportunity and rare occasion as the farm is not usually open to the public.  National Meadows Day is a celebration of traditional meadows across the country and there will be activities for all the family including bug hunts, soil printing and meadow bingo.  There will also be guided walks, flower surveys and moth trapping.  It’s a free, drop in event so come along and take a look at what traditional, unspoilt hay meadows should really look like – full of colour and life.  For more information check out our Facebook page.

Jess, Conservation and Engagement Ranger

 

 

 

 

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Wildlife isn’t just for Christmas

So Christmas is finally upon us and it looks set to be a bit of a stormy one. Luckily our pic-1winter so far has been rather dry and mild. But our staff and volunteers will be out in all weather, rain or shine, to make sure our sites are maintained and managed properly. Some of the work I have been undertaking this winter has involved path and countryside infrastructure maintenance from revamping signs and re-wiring boardwalks to replacing steps, see the pic of Full Time Volunteer Ellie helping to put in some new steps.

To acknowledge all the good work done this year, and of course to celebrate Christmas, we held our annual staff and volunteer Christmas meal last week. Unfortunately I was unable to attend but I have been assured that a good time was had by all! The weather held long enough for everyone to enjoy a brisk walk in the Brecon Beacons before settling down to a lovely home cooked Christmas dinner prepared by our very own Joe and Stuart. So just to reiterate – a big thank you to all our volunteers for all the hard work you have put in this year!

Other festive events have been going on around our properties too – this week in Coelbren we had a crafty afternoon of making natural tree decorations, soil printing and bird feeder wreaths. Why not try using some natural materials yourself this Christmas? It’s a fun family activity to enjoy together and you will probably find most of the materials on or near your doorstep!

Winter can be hard for wildlife – food is in short supply and finding enough to sustain them through the winter can be difficult. It can also be a good time for you to spot wildlife; leaves have fallen from trees and hedges and birds are preoccupied with their hunt for food.

Try putting out some bird feed and water in your garden and sit back and watch from the comfort of a warm house, safe in the knowledge you are doing your part to help them get through this tough period. Take the time to enjoy nature – take a stroll and listen out for the pic-7drum of Greater Spotted woodpeckers as they start their courtship displays in January.

Over the past 50 years we have seen a decline in two thirds of the UK’s plant and animal species, including some of our once common garden species. There are estimated to be over 15 million gardens in Britain, so managing them for wildlife could be vital for the success of a species. One such species is the hedgehog which appears to have lost 30% of its total population since 2002, and is now thought to be declining at 5% per year. See the pic of a little guy I found in the middle of the road last autumn before going off to hibernate.

Go wild in your garden. One small step can make a big difference!

Something as simple as making a small hole in the bottom of your fence can help wildlife like hedgehogs; this joins up fragmented habitats that are vital for their survival. Or leaving a boarder or corner of your lawn to grow long during the summer will attract more insects which in turn is good for hedgehogs and other wildlife such as birds.

Wildlife isn’t just for Christmas, there are many ways to help them in your garden so don’t be complacent and start thinking ahead now!

Jess, Conservation and Engagement Ranger

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.

Kate
Commons Link 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

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