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

Let’s go down to the woods today

It has been just over 4 years since we started our work at Pont-ar-Daf, the woodland at one of the busiest access points to Pen-y-Fan.  When we first arrived on site, it was a neglected and unmanaged commercial crop.  A study of the site carried out by our nature conservation team considered it to be of little value to nature, the highlights being a strip of old birch and oak wood running through it at the north end, a drainage ditch at the south end and a failed Scots Pine crop in the middle, each being quite significant for the species found in them.

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Work only just starting at the beginning of 2012

The wood has changed somewhat since then, rapidly at first with the discovery of a disease in the larch trees (Phytophthora ramorum) and more gradually as we have improved access around the woods to allow for future management.  We are looking to maintain a mix of species of varying age.  The new tracks intersect old plough lines, in turn reducing run-off.  The intention is to keep these tracks as wide corridors to let light into the wood and give space for woodland floor species.  In other sections we are maintaining cover to preserve the humidity and moisture for ferns, mosses and other damp loving plants.

What has impressed us the most is the explosion of wildlife we’ve seen in the wake of our work.  One of our aims is to increase the nature conservation value of the site and by spending a lot of time there, we are seeing all sorts of things take advantage that weren’t before.

Frog spawn was probably the first thing we spotted.  With the harvesting machines not

Frog spawn

Frog spawn

long off site, they were quick to make use of the puddles left behind by the machines tracking across the hillside.

Apart from the trees we have planted (with varying success until we fenced out the sheep that wander the road), there has been a gradual increase in the natural spread of plants across the site.  Taking advantage of the light now making it to the floor, lack of competition and particularly the disturbance of the ground where we have been working and landscaping.  Various grasses and reeds have come up along with primroses, rosebay willow herb, foxgloves, heather, bilberry, marsh violets, gorse, bramble, bluebells and colts foot as well as some natural tree regeneration of birch, rowan and some of the conifer species that were on the site.  All the seed has been unlocked from the soil or come by natural means.

We have noticed a gradual increase in bird sound, particularly noticeable in the breaks from using machinery.  Just as the sound bursts in and you start looking around, you can see the birds.  Ravens, buzzards and red kites circle overhead, occasionally taking a perch in the tree tops.  Lower down, below the canopy and hunting for insects, we see tree pipit (a rare red status species), redstart (amber), treecreeper, robins and many members of the tit family.

Some species which may be considered shy can be quite brazen.  A quite unexpected spot

Red Grouse

Red Grouse in flowering heather

by Stuart our Lead Woodland Ranger was a Red grouse, walking past him as he stacked timber with the tractor.  It was picking its way through the heather, grazing its way up the hill, taking advantage of the new, young growth.

This was not the only brazen visitor to the woods.  We saw footprints and tracks in the snow criss-crossing the site, but one afternoon during a chainsaw course we were hosting, a fox popped up from the lower part of the woods, trotted over the top of a timber stack, observing the trainees and taking a leisurely walk around.  The fox watched them from a relatively short distance in the trees; one of those moments too busy watching to take a picture.

The increased sunlight and extra ground vegetation cover has allowed for a great increase in the number of sun loving creatures.  Butterflies and moths seem more frequent across the site, following access tracks and floating over the clear fell areas.  Pictured below is one we found whilst fencing the southern tip of the site.  It really stood out with the bright pink on black, sat on top of a yellow flower, unusually bright for a moth.

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Five-spot Burnet moth, spotted whilst fencing

Another sun worshipper, spotted sunning themselves on the tree stumps, or here on one of the old boundary walls, is a common lizard.

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Common Lizard sunning itself

As we walk across the site we have seen various small mammals running through the maze of brash, only the briefest of glimpses as they run for cover, but looking like shrews and mice.

This leaves us with our most recent spot.  Most likely feeding off the small mammals and

Kestrel

Kestrel, hovering

reptiles, we’ve been watching a kestrel hunt for its lunch while we stopped to eat ours, watching it hover and dive, completely unfazed by a busy car park and walkers making their way up and down the hill.  So a plan for this year is to build a nest box for the kestrel, place it high and sheltered and see what happens.

A lot of this increase is benefiting from the work we are carrying out, but we have been spending a lot of time up there too and just being out there increases your chances of seeing the wildlife.

Tim – Woodland Ranger

F, F, F, F, F…

Nothing obscene, just lots of things beginning with F for this update.

Blackberries

As you will have gathered in the last update from the woods, summer is fencing time.  Our fencing plans have extended to Pont-ar-Daf and Storey Arms.  Not an act of keeping people out the woods, but more to keep out the number of sheep that seem to be roaming along the main road and being drawn towards all the trees we planted last winter.  The sweet buds of the young trees seem irresistible to the sheep, so out they must go if the trees are to get a chance to grow.

Getting stuck in with the fencing is our new full time volunteer in the woods.  Kate joined us at the start of September as an apprentice and is studying with Herefordshire College of Technology once a week whilst getting on the ground experience with us.

The start of school terms has also seen us deliver a couple of new forest school log circles to schools in the Forest Education Initiative cluster groups that we work in.

Fire.  Yes, more fire.  As we write this, we are about to go burning with another working holiday.  This time making way for the fence line that will be keeping the sheep out of Pont-ar-Daf.

With all this out the way we will push on with our felling over the winter.  This winter we plan to finish our access track through Pont-ar-Daf.

Finally, go foraging, food for free.  There is loads of fruit out there this year, probably the rewards of a warm and wet summer.  The established forest tracks are prime for blackberry picking (#21 of your 50 things).  The hedgerows are good for sloes too.  It also looks like a good seed year for the trees, so we will be out and about collecting acorns and ash keys.

Feasting on blackberries,
The woods team.

Wrong kind of weather?

No. 34 - track wild animals.  From 50 things to do before you're 11 3/4.

No. 34 – track wild animals. From 50 things to do before you’re 11 3/4.

Snow hasn’t been stopping everything from getting out and about, complete one of our 50 things activities to track wild animals by following their prints in the snow.  We saw these tracks on a log across a river whilst we were out fencing and making our own tracks.

Building fences, making tracks.

Building fences, making tracks.

This was to be the perfect time for us to undertake our replanting of the area felled last year to control the spread of disease in larch trees.  We had planned visits from Gower volunteers and a local health group to help us.  This all unfortunately fell whilst the site was under a foot of snow.  So now we are waiting for it to clear and hopefully we’ll get them in before Spring.

We are also hoping to get on with surfacing the tracks in the woods, again, we are just waiting for the weather, this time to offer us some nice hard ground.

So with the weather holding us up, our work list is growing – all the more need for recruiting a new full time volunteer to the woods team, click here for more information.

That’s all for now,
The woods team.

Now there are 3

As a quick update on some of what we had planned for June, you can view what we got up to on our trip to the beach here; http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/rhossili-and-south-gower-coast/
We hope to see some of the Gower staff again when we re-plant at Pont-ar-Daf this winter…

July has been a return to hard graft and a great introduction to our work for Peter the new woodland volunteer. Peter is staying with us whilst he builds up his woodland experience to help get a job in the sector.

With some better weather we have had time to focus on the care of the newer plantings around the Tarell Valley. A bit of extra fencing to make sure that the areas are stock proof – our young trees seem to be the favourite grazing for sheep. Next up comes the weeding, with a careful eye, we strim out all the bracken between the trees. The trouble with the bracken, is that it shades out the young, small trees in the summer and then come the autumn it collapses and squashes them. A quick spot spray will hopefully help the trees get away this summer.

Young trees after a little care and attention.

Proof of it getting nicer, we now have bees in residence at the back of our yard, hoping to make the most of the heather on the hill above us.

Busy bees

We have also managed to get Peter stuck right into some forestry work with the creation of a new track in Pont-ar-Daf.  He has been felling, winching, cross-cutting and extracting timber.  The new track will help us get around the woodland so that we can manage it.  We have also created a new loading area for the timber lorries so they no longer have to load near the busy entrance onto the hill that is the main access point to Pen-y-Fan. 

Whilst the digger was on site, we also sent it along the bottom edge of the wood.  Here it has been preparing the ground for a new permissive path between Pont-ar-Daf and Storey Arms that is off the roadside.  There is a full gallery of pictures on our facebook page.

Track building, full steam ahead.

Now we are wishing for a lovely sunny August.  Not just for your holidays, but with some good weather, we should finish or fencing plans for the TarellValley.  This has been a project of our over the last few years to exclude stock from the wooded areas to help new growth and the under storey to flourish.

And if there are a few not so pleasant days, that should be enough for us to finally fill the last of the log sheds for this winter.

 

Time to get out there,
The Woods team.

It’s hotting up

As you may have read last time, we were just embarking on fencing some of the dingles, the little wooded valleys, on our farms in the Tarell Valley.  In this time we have had some good wildlife sightings, incuding kingfishers on the river, lizards in old walls, frogs under rocks and this moth.  Although it may not be an amazing rare find, it was still impressive .  This night flyer was brushed from its perch as we fenced and spent the rest of the day on the tractor.

As part of our fencing work we have been replacing some of the stiles on the Tarell Valley walk with kissing gates.  Our most recent batch of gates has been made by Year 9 pupils from Ysgol Maesydderwen in Ystradgynlais.  The students built them as part of an industry day to experience the activities of a countryside warden.

August is now looking busy for the woodlands team as we pack-up and move to the Gower to help the property team down there prepare for the building of the new Lodge at Cwm Ivy.  We’ll be taking our specialist machinery to help deal with the handling of large trees.  Hopefully we’ll get you some pictures, but for now, here is the Gower blog page with more on the Lodge.

http://gowernt.wordpress.com/

And finally, to top it all off, we are making preparations to our Garden Take-away that will be appearing at this years Green Man Festival in the Brecon Beacons.  The festival is from the 18th-22nd August.  It’s all sold –out now, but if you managed to get tickets, come say hello and find out just what it is that we are serving up.

The woodland team.