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

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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

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

All change on the Beacons

Once again it’s been all change within the team this year, Jessica moved across in the summer to manage some of our lowland sites and Ben left the National Trust in the autumn, so welcome to Huw Barrell who started in July on the Brecon Beacons. He has been steadily sinking his teeth into the role but we are still one member of staff down at present to look after the Sugarloaf, Skirrid, Begwns and Abergwesyn; that will keep us busy during the winter.

We have spent a great deal of time this summer Volunteer groups building ditcheson the Pont ar Daf footpath with our volunteer groups. We have been building stone drain ditches to try and prevent the path and banks from collapsing inward and we have also airlifted 60 tons of scalpings (small stone and dust) onto the footpath to build up the surface and make it more hardwearing.

Building ditches in not such good weather

We have extended our Lenghts Group with six new members so hopefully maintenance on all footpaths will be covered. The Meet and Greet Volunteers were extended by a further two members but we still require more; Interested? Our Easter event and Wild Wednesdays with children have been very successful this year, they have all enjoyed the likes of den building and pond dipping down the Sugarloaf, we will continue those next year so look out for more details on our Facebook page and website.

We carried out a series of walks recently from Welsh Words in the Countryside on the Beacons to fungi spotting at the Skirrid, but unfortunately we had a low turnout for some of the walks. Our pond on the Begwns has become a flagship with the Freshwater Habitats Trust so we hope to have a few surveys carried out specifically looking at the endangered Medicinal Leech and White-clawed Crayfish found there next year.

Events are on the increase once again, we are now giving out licences and charging groups, who respectively charge their participants, and that money then goes towards the maintenance and repairs of the footpaths as there are no grants for such undertakings. We have also had a variety of filming take place all over our properties including BBC’s The One Show at Henryhd Falls and Iolo’s Beacons (out next year), S4C have ventured up Pen y Fan and several programmes based on special forces training, but using civilians, including Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Win. And a few adverts too.

Robert Reith

 

New Visitor Hub Hidden

In May the Meet & Greet container finally arrived. We had to get planning permission to site it at the Pont-ar-daf, which required it to look nothing like a container. The answer was to heavily disguise it as a shed!

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A big secure box

 

The woods team put aside some Larch trees from the plantation only a stones throw from where the container is sited. This was cut and milled to produce waney edge boards to use as cladding and 4×2’s to attach it to

Pont-A-Daf container b

The roof needed to be corrugated tin sheeting and it also needed to have separate doors. I certainly did a bit of head scratching working out the best way to do it!

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A plan is coming together

 

I got two of my Volunteers, Allan and Kathy to make the doors. After a bit of trial and error with the hinges (finding something strong enough to take the weight) we got the doors on.
As anyone who has fitted waney edge board will know it is not as straight forward as you might think to get a random pattern, it takes a bit of working out!

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Pre-planned randomness

 

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Looks just like a shed

 

Here’s the shed finished. As you can see you wouldn’t know there was a container underneath it. I would estimate a quarter of the time it took me to build this was spent talking to people using the area, so I think the Meet & Greet Volunteers are going to be kept very busy!

Cheers,
Simon – Estate Ranger

Have a lot of enthusiasm for the Brecon Beacons to share? Interested in becoming one of our Meet & Greet volunteers? Find out more by contacting Rob via brecon@nationaltrust.org.uk

The path ahead

2014 will be even more challenging than most years, as I have to recruit two new staff members, one seasonal to help me repair the footpaths on the Beacons from May to September and one to help me manage Abergwesyn, Sugarloaf, Skirrid, and the Begwns uplands.

This spring early summer will see us locating a shipping container that we will clad in timber and use as an information point in the Pont-ar-Daf car park, at last the meet and greet Wardens will get some shelter.
We are employing two landscape designers for the Pont-ar-Daf car park project.  They will begin in March and hopefully go to planning in April.

Rebecca Parton our business support co-ordinator and I are in the process of doing a Brecon Beacons leaflet (our first) with some info and a map with walks.
Our walking and events calendar has been agreed by all and is quite full with a good variety of challenges all over the properties (Brecon Beacons and Sugarloaf & Usk Valley), so you can do high level, low level and get the children involved in 50 things.
The remaining weekends are taken up with volunteer groups, we have Bath University, working holidays , London Middlesex vols, to name but a few.

Danish exchange students helping me in not so ideal weather - at least we can see where the water is running.

Danish exchange students helping me in not so ideal weather – at least we can see where the water is running.

This winter has been spent running around digging and then redigging ditches to try and control the water flow, the path work we have tried on the Pont-ar-Daf has been a wash out, elbow deep in cold water and mud is not good for the complexion despite what the beauticians tell us.
I acquired a second hand mini excavator this winter which will help speed up the ditch digging and path levelling, saving my poor back and of course those of my volunteers.

Dreaming of days like this...

Dreaming of days like this…

Rob
Access Ranger

No spade required

Fancy joining us on an archaeological survey?

Our community archaeologist will be surveying at Pont ar Daf next week, exploring the WWII tank defences and the old coaching inn remains.

13-16th February
For more information or to book a place on any of the dates above
please contact Charlie at charles.enright@nationaltrust.org.uk
Or check out Charlies blog – http://charlesenright.wordpress.com/

20140213 PaD Archaeology event