Creating Foresters

How do you end up a forester?

To quote David Attenborough “no one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced”

So to play our part in this we work with local schools to give them an opportunity to explore some of the woods we look after. We maintain forest school sites near the towns of Brecon and Abergavenny. Forest schools are areas we have created that school groups can come to, to explore their natural surroundings, get muddy, build dens and cook on fires. More than just an extended play time, these sessions get children up close to nature and encourage them to create their own adventure, to assess their own risks and test their own physical abilities.

One of our forest school sites.

One of our forest school sites.

Not everyone can make it out to our sites regularly, or at all, with pressures on schools to meet budgets and teaching targets. Here we try to help schools bring the outdoors to them. We help supply materials for schools to build their own outdoor learning areas in their grounds. Logs for teaching circles, branches for den building and material for projects.

Delivering materials for a log circle to one of our local schools.

Delivering materials for a log circle to one of our local schools.

We also work with our local Outdoor Learning Wales (OLW) Networks and have recently helped support teacher training in South Powys and the creation of a literacy training pack.

Teaching the teachers.

Teaching the teachers.

For those that have developed an interest in woodlands and decided they want to make a career out of it, we can help them take their first steps into the industry. Each year we take on a full time volunteer. In return for their time we offer them a chance to learn and practice the skills we use in our woodland management, from planting trees, right the way through to milling and making timber products.

One of our volunteers progressing on to felling bigger trees.

One of our volunteers progressing on to felling bigger trees.

If you are a teacher and interested in how your school could get involved, you can contact me through our social media, or find me at the Outdoor Learning Wales (OLW) Network meetings for South Powys or the Monmouthshire meetings in the north of the county.

Woodland Ranger


F, F, F, F, F…

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


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.

Outdoors and indoors, a divided team.

May has been quite a varied month with one half of the woods team office-bound, we’ve not quite been running at full pace, but have ticked off a few of those office jobs that have been put off in favour of getting outdoors.

So, out in the woods Stuart has been dragging in and stacking the timber covered in our previous blogs.  Soft woods from Pont-ar-Daf as part of our woodland plan is making its way into sawmills and hardwood thinnings from the river that are destined to become firewood.  All this helps fund our conservation work in the woodlands.  Removing trees to create space and light, allowing space for new trees and lower flora levels to come through, creating a mixed age structure and levels in the woodlands that benefit a wider range of wildlife and at the same time, not wasting the products of the woodland.  Hopefully this goes some way to a sustainable circle.

Pont-ar-Daf, pick-up sticks

Great big mess of sticks waiting to be pulled in, stacked and sold before we can re-plant.

Not allowed out, Tim has been bashing away at the computer, fixing bits, and out meeting schools and suppliers.  Not the usual things we write about here, but the bits that keep us moving.  Hopefully you will be starting to see a wave of updates and new sections to our websites, social media and notice boards. Planning towards the Welsh 50 things campaign and Hay Festival.
Working with members of the local Forest Education Initiative, we will be helping to provide log circles for forest school sessions in their grounds and have welcomed students from Coleg Powys to help us renovate our volunteer accommodation with the replacement of the decking.
Some of the equipment essential to our every day work has finally had some down time too for essential repairs and spares have been gathered up to keep us going through the summer.

Dan-y-Gyrn deck by Coleg Powys

Getting the new decking structure in with Coleg Powys.

June should see Tim declared fit again and allowed out the office, not soon enough for the woods team, all this good weather they’ve missed out on, best get busy, there’s felling fencing and firewood to be completed.

Glad to be in the woods,
The woods team.

Work over. Now for fun & games.

Whilst the last update from the woods was a bit sparse and this one a little late, the weather has given us opportunity now.  We’ve planted trees, surfaced tracks, felled trees, stood around in the sun, delivered shelter, stared at trees and will have plenty more still to do.

So, starting from the beginning of that.  We just about beat the hint of spring to get all our trees in.  A massive thanks to our volunteers and working holiday that helped us get them all in, a grand total of 4,500 trees.  Most of these have been planted at Pont-ar-Daf to replace the larch trees that were felled as part of a disease control.  The planting mix was made up of hazel, birch, oak and rowan – the mix was to have included ash, but due to ash die-back concerns these shall have to wait.

Thank-you to all the volunteers that have helped with our tree planting.

Thank-you to all the volunteers that have helped with our tree planting.

Also up in Pont-ar-Daf has been the installation of drains and surfacing of the access track into the woods.  Initially this is giving us access to manage the woodlands, but when we finally get to the other end will also provide a way onto the hill above Storey Arms.  We’ve made good progress on the clearing of trees for the next stage of the track, but the thickest block of trees is yet to come.

Not a game of hide and seek at The Kymin, but actual work.

Not a game of hide and seek at The Kymin, but actual work.

A day was spent walking around The Kymin with Gary our mapping man, marking anything that wasn’t on a map in preparation of something that we are putting together for 50 things and local schools that requires a very detailed map.  Any guesses what?  Keep an eye out for something new appearing this summer.

Also for local schools, where they can’t get to the woods, we’ve been bringing the woods to them.  Whilst to you this may look like a trailer load of our coppicing waste (which it incidentally is, from the car park at Clytha), to the pupils of Goytre Fawr School, this is a mountain of den building material for their Forest Schools area.  Hopefully we’ll be getting back some pictures of their dens, but in the meantime, feel free to post some of your own.

Trailer load of fun.

Trailer load of fun.

Recently we were down at Dyffryn Gardens, helping out on their tree surveys.  The purpose of the tree surveys is to ensure your safety through good health and care in the trees.  Unlike a lot of our work you read about here, the aim of these surveys is to keep the trees up, especially with so many champion and veteran trees.

Hope you enyoyed your Easter break, we felt like we earned ours.  Now we’re back we will be pushing on with our track through Pont-ar-Daf and extracting the timber ready for sale to become fences, garden structures and housing as well as your electricity.

Cheers for now,
The woods team.

It’s not a post box, it’s a boiler

After a hint of summer, that spurred on our fencing, the reality of the approaching winter is now here.

We have been squeezing in the last of the fencing for the Tarell Valley woodland project.  This will see the majority of wooded areas in the upper area of the valley protected, in good health and linked together to allow a free movement of wildlife.

The Tarell Valley

We are continuing to work with local schools, helping them in their forest schools through the provision of sites to go truly wild in or by bringing the woodland to them.   Llanfoist School are the next to receive a log circle and a bunch of den building material.  Our 50 things are going down really well with the teachers too, some are even determined to complete the tasks themselves.  To help them, we are supporting a teacher inset day, led by Forestry Commision Wales through the provision of one of our Forest Schools venues.

The wood chip boiler, not a Mk2 TARDIS.

Our full-time volunteers are about to start getting the benefits of a new wood-chip boiler that has been installed in their accommodation.  They aren’t the only ones to be feeling the benefit of wood fuel.  Suddenly a demand for firewood has kicked in and we have been busy getting orders out.  We may have to up our production, so last month the woods team went to have a look at shiny machines at the APF forestry show which also included some of these carvings in competition.

I can see a cyclist, runner and maybe a swimmer, how about you?

Finally, for the woods team, winter = felling.  This winter we are moving our focus out of the Tarell and up the road to Pont-ar-Daf.  The beginnings of access tracks are in, so work will commence shortly.  Not the infection led clear fell of last winter this time, but a considered thinning of the trees to remove the under-performing trees and make space for the remainder to develop into mature timber trees.

Of course felling, means planting.  The area that was previously larch, down by the road-side is now due for replanting.  We have over 4000 trees to plant and may well be looking for a hand…
If you’re part of a group that may be interested in lending a hand with the planting, contact our assistant woodland warden


See you out there,
The Woods Team.

Anything and everything

We’ve had a very variable time in weather and work schedule. We’ve been cutting trees down and sticking them back up again, seen many more loads of logs taken away from site, found time to deliver a special load of logs and even been above the tree line in a helicopter. Next month isn’t looking any quieter either.

First off though, we’ve had a little maintenance work to carry out in our yard, John from Usk Valley Training joined us for a day to help tame an oak tree in the middle of our car park. A little attention from time to time will allow us to keep this tree for a long time without it causing issues.

A small trim back to stop it out growing its boots.

I would also like to say a big thank-you to 5th Penllergaer Scouts. They joined us on a lovely day to help with the ongoing care of one of our new woodland plantings. They helped us remove over 2000 tree guards that saplings have now grown out of. The saplings are now 5 years old and no longer need the guards protection, in some cases, the guards were even restricting the trees growth. With the guards collected in, we’ll be able to re-use them again too.

It was all hands to the hill on the 11th May as the access team had their annual air-lift to get all their materials up the hill for this years planned footpath repairs.

Just the last few bags waiting to make their way to Pen-y-Fan.

In Pont-ar-Daf, with all the phytopthora control work out the way, we have started to fell a line to make way for a new access track around the woods. All the wood we fell here is cut to length for specific buyers who have been in collecting loads through the month. Timber from site is making its way to becoming gates and powering the power station at Port Talbot for you cup of tea.

Looking back at where we have come from.

We’ve spent quite a bit of time in Hay-on-Wye this month too. Firstly helping provide the raw materials – some big logs, for a log circle in the school grounds. This means that the infants will now be able to enjoy forest schools too.
The culmination of prepping over the last few months came together as we built the National Trust stand at Hay Festival. The main feature of the stand is a leafless tree. Throughout the festival we have been asking for peoples most memorable outdoor experiences on luggage tags and hanging them on the tree, bringing it back into leaf with colour. As well as providing a selection of logs for seating, we have also built a camp fire on the stand for people to share stories around. Thanks to our volunteers Richard and Philppa there are also some very rustic memory sticks.

That just about sums up May, June holds more rain, some outdoors inspiration, something special on the Gower and hopefully, a holiday.

The woodland team.

Reaping the benefits of our surroundings

In our last update, we mentioned that we would be milling timber for the estate at the end of February. Well, dates slipped due to a run of bad weather and we finally milled in March.A bit of office maths has revealed that by using our own timber and doing the work ourselves, we will have saved 75% on material costs. The office calculator won’t go quite as far as working out our reduced product miles, or carbon saving, but we can predict that it is considerably lower than the bought in alternatives.

We have cleared a corner in our yard in preparation of new arrivals. The bottom end of the garden used to accommodate chickens and has also served us as a tree nursery. This spring though, it becomes home to several hives of bees. Our beekeeper is hopeful for a good harvest of honey. The unimproved pasture and small woodlands around us in the Tarell Valley should provide a great nectar source. Just above our base is an area of heather moor that is also rather desirable to the bees.

Clearing away the old chicken run to make space for bee hives.

The last of the larch trees have been cleared from Pont-ar-Daf as part of our Phytophthora ramorum control works. Work will continue on site as we now have the go ahead to improve access around the site.

Just had a wander through one of our Forest School sites this morning and met some newcomers.This reminds me of a report just published by the National Trust about children getting out to play in the outdoors and the rise of ‘nature defecit disorder’. The decline, benefits, barriers and the future of outdoor play are explored. The most interesting statistic for me was that three times more children are admitted to hospital for falling out of bed than for falling out of trees.
The full report is here:
as are details of how you can contribute.

Time to perfect our tree climbing now,
The woods team.