A varied and fulfilling role

Working for the National Trust as an Area Ranger is a very fulfilling and varied role and one of my favourite parts is working with volunteers.  This can happen in a variety of ways and I wanted to share with you an insight into the range of people we work with, starting with Full Time Volunteers.

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Former Full Time Volunteer, Ellie

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Current Full Time Volunteer, Amy

Full Time Volunteers… these tend to be younger people who have just finished or are in the middle of a university course.  When starting to look for work, they may well find they meet the academic requirements for environmental and conservation jobs but, by default, are lacking the practical experience.  We have also taken on people who, for one reason or another, have decided on a career change.  Again they might be looking to gain some practical knowledge or just to confirm that the grass is indeed greener on the other side, before taking the plunge!
This, as with all volunteers, is a tremendous resource to the National Trust.  It is great to be able to work with people who are willing to give up their time and enjoy learning something new and to pass on our knowledge and enthusiasm for what is more a vocation than just a job.  We support their development by offering accommodation or assistance with travel costs as well as providing certificated training such as the safe use of pesticides and brush cutters; surveying and monitoring skills.

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‘Santander’ group hard at work

Corporate Groups… an increasing number of large groups from different companies are looking for volunteering opportunities for their staff.  These tend to be for a day at a time so are great for getting tasks done that require a large number of hands-on and enthusiastic people.  Team building is their primary goal so I tend to give them jobs with an achievable outcome such as painting railings or raking up cut hay meadows.

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Volunteer Robin getting ready for a day’s work

Retired and part time workers… another invaluable source of help to ours or any other National Trust team.  The reasons to volunteer are always varied and can be for social interaction, physical exercise or mental stimulation.  Finding time to volunteer can also be hugely rewarding and when people are willing to share their vast wealth of knowledge and experience, we are only too happy to provide them with the opportunity to do so bit.ly/2k89SLP

Cheers
Simon Rose, Area Ranger

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The Skirrid; development of a car park

The car park at the Skirrid mountain north of Abergavenny, Monmouthshire has been open for just over a year.  This was one of the first National Trust pay and display car parks in our area and it has been quite a steep learning curve for looking after and maintaining it.  We went from having a lay by that could hold a maximum of 15 cars on the busy Abergavenny to Skenfrith road to having a spacious safe area for 60 plus vehicles to park – see the before and after images of when it was first opened below.

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Posts inserted to help protect and maintain the entrance

Ongoing improvements to the car park have taken place including inserting wooden posts to mark the edge of the entrance and around the ticket machine.  These help to guide visitors to the parking areas and prevent people from driving on the grass verges, which could cause damage to the land, and possibly get stuck.

As with the majority of the timber we use elsewhere, these posts were felled and processed locally at our own properties.  One of my volunteers, Alan, profiled them before being treated for weather proofing.  Continuing the volunteer theme, Amy one of our full time volunteers who is working with various members of the team to gain some practical conservation experience, helped me put the posts in place.


Unfortunately over the last year the ticket machine has suffered some attempted break-ins which have left it looking a bit shabby.  We decided to replace it with one that will be able to scan membership cards and move it to a more central and secure location in the car park.  Also after a year of operating the pay and display service, we have reviewed and adjusted the tariffs to better reflect the visitor usage.

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A more central and secure location for the replaced machine

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Update hourly car park tariffs

The income from the car park helps towards the upkeep of the area but also contributes to the vital conservation work we carry out on the Skirrid to allow all our visitors to continue enjoying the countryside.

As with all of our sites we are constantly looking to make our visitors’ enjoyment the best it can be.

Simon Rose
Area Ranger

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

 

 

 

 

My volunteer story

Hello, my name is Lewis Robertson and I’ve been a Full Time Volunteer Uplands Ranger with the National Trust Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire team for 12 months now and I wanted to share my experiences with you.  If you’ve been up Pen y Fan in the last year, you may have seen me working on the footpaths with the uplands team.

I originally come from the North East of Scotland and moved here to work as a volunteer after finishing my degree in Environmental Science as I wanted to gain the experience and skills necessary for a career in conservation.

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Preparing the ground ready for grass seeding & fertilising

The majority of my time has been spent working on the footpaths of the central Brecon Beacons helping to control erosion.  With hundreds of thousands of people walking the Beacons each year, it is a constant challenge to not only maintain the footpaths but also minimise the erosion to the path edges.  I’ve heard it being compared to painting the Forth Rail Bridge by visitors and that sounds about right.

 

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Clearing out culverts by hand on Bwlch Duwynt

 

Building drainage features and widening or replacing path sections are very time consuming because almost all the work is done by hand.  When stone pitching, each stone has to be carefully dug deep into the ground and set at the correct angle to match the stones around it.  It sounds simple in theory but it takes a lot of practice and skill to do it quickly.  It’s a very old technique for building a path and predates the Romans but if done well it blends into the landscape and lasts a long time.

Working on the footpaths has given me some fantastic experiences.  Most notably assisting with last year’s helicopter airlift where we moved bags of crushed sandstone (scalpings) to damaged areas of the Storey Arms path.  Not only did I get to work as part of the team on the ground but I also got to ride in the helicopter, twice! It was an amazing experience and I’ll never forget it.

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We need a lot of kit for maintenance work!

Maintaining footpaths in the uplands is very hard and physical work.  It was a little shock to the system when I first started but I soon got used to it.  I enjoy practical work and there’s a real sense of achievement to be gained from constructing stone drainage features and paths.  I myself am a keen hill walker and I really enjoy giving something back to the hills by helping to protect them.

Naturally working in the hills means enduring all weather conditions and the Brecon Beacons certainly hasn’t disappointed.  There have been times where my coffee has been ripped out of my cup by the wind and then continuously refilled by the rain but you soon forget about that on a nice sunny day.

Working in the Brecon Beacons has been an amazing experience, I’ve learned a lot and enjoyed every minute of it.  I’ve worked with some wonderful people in an iconic location and I’ll never forget my time here – highly recommended.

Thanks
Lewis

New Beginnings

This winter we have planted 1450 trees across the sites we look after.  Some are direct replacements for felled trees, whilst others have supplemented existing planting or were entirely new.  We plant over winter as the trees are in a dormant state whilst they wait for the warmth of spring and longer days before pushing their sap up and forming buds that will be that year’s leaves.

On the Skirrid we have completed planting of the hedge banks around the new car park.  It

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Hedge planting at the Skirrid

was mostly planted in the first winter after construction, but there were some gaps at the ends where we had run out of trees.  Now the whole bank is planted and we have had a chance to replace any failed trees from the first year, a process known as ‘beating up’.
We have also been making plans to trial some elm trees that have been bred to be resistant to Dutch Elm disease.  We are just waiting for the nursery to be happy with them before planting.  We will be able to plant these later in the year as they will be bigger pot grown plants with a more developed root structure.

Jess has also planted some trees down at Lanlay Meadows following on from some hedge laying she has been doing.  In places the hedge was a little thin, so some new saplings will help to add a bit of thickness and continuity to the hedge.  Hedges are a good food source and provide features that help all sorts of wildlife travel across what would otherwise be open ground.

We have also been continuing to plant at Pont ar Daf as part of our ongoing work up there.  In the clear felled areas we have been planting a mixed upland broadleaf selection to help increase the nature value of the woods and soften its appearance in the landscape. Predominantly made up of birch, rowan and oak.  In the damper spots and along the stream edges we have been planting alder as it is very tolerant of wet ground, in fact, it rather thrives in it.  The last lot of planting has just been finished with the help from Gower National Trust Thursday Group Volunteers who also did some burning to help clear the ground for planting.

Tim – Woodland Ranger

 

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