A volunteer’s-eye view

I’m the new Full Time Volunteer ranger at the Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire base and whilst I am here I will be getting involved in a wide range of projects with both the estate and the nature teams.

We have recently been busy maintaining the railings at Clytha, litter picking and

Pond at skyrrid

Early developments of the Skirrid pond

strimming around paths to keep the walking routes easily accessible and looking beautiful. We have also been busy landscaping a nature pond that will be surrounded by a grassland and picnic area at the Skirrid car park. It is early days for the pond, as you can see from the photo and our basic plan below giving you an idea of its location, but we hope to see lots of wildlife within and around it soon, such as frogs, newts and damselflies.

Preliminary Skyrrid pond plan

Basic plan giving an idea of the location

 

meadow brown

Meadow Brown butterfly

With the nature team I have been busy nature surveying. This includes a weekly butterfly survey at Lanlay where we have found many Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood and Small Tortoise Shell butterflies. We have also done many flora surveys and I have been blown away by how many beautiful plants are within National Trust properties in Wales. Due to careful maintenance and management of the land, especially controlling grazing levels, the National Trust has been able to welcome many plant species back to areas where they have previously been lost.Some of my favourite plants I have seen are: the elegant (pale coloured) Heath Spotted-orchid at Lanlay, the beautiful (deep purple) Southern Marsh-orchid at Coelbren – of which we found a whopping 48, and the primitive looking liverworts and mosses at Henrhyd Falls adding to its majestic atmosphere.

 

I am very much looking forward to the rest of my time with the Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire National Trust team and am eager to learn more about the important land management and habitat conservation work they carry out. I hope that some of you will venture out to see some of the amazing plants and places that I have mentioned above.

Thanks, Ellie
Full Time Volunteer Ranger

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Stop looking and let your senses take over

Bluebells 009a

Coed-y-Bwnydd bluebells

Whilst we have been busy encouraging you to go and see the bluebells at sites such as Coed-y-Bwnydd (Woodlands at Coed-y-Bwnydd article) and on the Skirrid (article on the Skirrid) with a good dose of images, what these don’t share with you is all the other senses you can only experience by getting out there.

This struck me recently after a recent walk around Coed-y-Bwnydd after installing a new information board by the main gate – more here on our Facebook page.  Walking around to see the progress of the bluebells; experiencing the cool and the warmth as I caught the sun’s heat that was waking the bluebells in between the dappled shade of the emergent leafs on the trees.  More so was the smell of the bluebells, growing stronger as the clusters of flowers got denser.

The smell of different trees is something I have been aware of for quite a while as a forester whilst we are felling or again as we process the timber into sawn wood or firewood.  A selection of smells, some trees are fruity like citrus or a watermelon, others are more plain like school dinner mashed potato and oak just smells like oak and nothing else.  The flowers and blossom that are now present on the trees are also intense and sweet, particularly hawthorn and burr cherry and especially gorse on a hot day.

Not all smells are so welcome, silage is a divisive one (that I like) and some go out of their way to smell bad, like this Stink Horn fungus.

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You can’t see how bad it smells, but you can see how popular it is with the flies

As you walk around, the sound of the birds builds and builds.  The distinctive call of the cuckoo is one that people listen out for.  At the start of the month we heard their return to the Upper Tarell Valley from where we are based and heard through Twitter of their return to the Sugar Loaf at the end of April (how odd does that phrase sound?).

There are a few tastes out there too for the forager right now, but the real bounty comes at the end of the summer as everything comes into fruit.

Stop looking at pictures and start being part of the scenery, close your eyes and see what you discover.

Tim – Woodland Ranger

Could you…

We work in the woods.  Some of these woods have a lot of conifers.

So inevitably, around this time of year, talk moves to Christmas trees.  This year we have cut trees for Dyffryn Gardens to display in the house and to go on our stand at the Royal Welsh Winter Fair.  Dyffryn started with an order for quite a large tree, but once in the hall, despite looking very impressive, it wasn’t possible to get it to stand on its own.  So we trimmed it down to a mere 12 foot.

before after

On our track works, we have finally made it to the top of Pont-ar-Daf, there is a glimmer of light and we can hear you all chatting as you walk the Storey Arms path on the hill.  For now we just have the trees down and hope to get moving with the digger in the new year.  A quick borrow of a digger from the buildings team has also allowed us to clear some of the drainage on the Skirrid which should make a walk around the wood a bit more pleasant.

A couple of years ago we did some tree surgery works on one of the ash trees by Pont-ar-Daf car park.  This was to remove some of its canopy to reduce the chances of it being blown over after removing all the larch that had been sheltering it.  We have now done the same for the other tree with help from Jon at Usk Valley Training.  This tree was a little more delicate as it already had some tears and rot, but hopefully this will give the tree a few more years and save it from tearing itself apart in the wind.

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Finally, we hand you over to Kate to introduce herself and share some of what she has been up to since she started volunteering with us in September.

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I joined the woods team at the beginning of September as part of an apprenticeship scheme with Herefordshire and Ludlow College. The course allows me to gain experience in the field as well as studying at college once a week and gain certificates in particular tasks such as basic chainsaw use, working near power lines and machine use. A little background info, I actually studied at university to become a potter, which I did, running my own business for about 5 years but due to economic downturn I found myself climbing the ladder in retail. After realising it wasn’t for me I decided to change direction and follow my desire to work outdoors helping the environment and so here I am, starting without any prior knowledge but learning every day with some very patient teachers! Within the 3 months I’ve converted timber, processed firewood, built fences and planted trees with plenty more tasks lined up, or so I’ve been told. I’ve actually got my felling course next week which will allow me to start knocking over some trees and get really stuck in. I’m enjoying it immensely and the experience and knowledge I’m gaining is truly valuable for my future within this field.

So that’s it from the woods team,
Enjoy your Christmas.

Warden, not weather forecaster

Snow, ice and freezing winds, best describes end of winter leading into spring and here I was saying in my February blog, pity the snow has gone as it saves wear and tear on the paths. Got that wrong, looking at the photo of walkers avoiding the snow and wearing away the sides of the path means more repairs to do. The snow arrived just in time for the Easter break and we had over 10,000 walkers, up on the Pont-ar-Daf footpath.

Walkers avoiding the snow and wearing away the sides on the Pont ar daf a

Walkers avoiding the snow and wearing away the sides on the Pont-ar-Daf path.

Since the last blog we did mange to get just over a weeks work on the Pont-ar-Daf path drainage, and I was rather hoping for weather like last years March with its clear skies, sunny days and warm temperatures.

bath uni digging ditches

Bath Uni’ volunteers maintaing ditches on the Skirrid path.

We were able to get down to the Skirrid for a few days and dig some drainage ditches with the help from Bath university pro experience students, and we managed to get some boardwalk put down in the boggy ground above the wall.  We’ve also been back again to continue some of our surfacing works.

Out of the mud, boardwalk building.

We have a new Seasonal Access Ranger that joined us at the beginning of April, her name is Philippa and she will be looking after the Central Brecon Beacons footpath network.  Say hello if you Philippa on the hill, digging ditches and laying stones.
At the same time, we say good bye and thank-you to full-time volunteer Laurence.  Keep an eye out for a chance to join the access team soon.

Laurence and Philippa, making sure Coed-y-Bwnydd is ready for the bluebells.

Our meet and greet wardens will be getting out more in May as the weather improves.  You’ll find them near the Pont-ar-Daf gate to the hill, with information on the best walks, the weather and some local knowledge.  They are also looking for more people to join them, so let us know if you want to share your enthusiasm for the Brecon Beacons.  E-mail robert.reith@nationaltrust.org.uk with the subject ‘Meet and Greet’.

Hoping to be on the hill in May,
The access team.

Getting you back on dry land

Pity the snow has gone, as it helps protect the surface and surrounding areas.   That is until it thaws, then we start to see some damage being caused, what with the freezing, thawing, rain and walkers it is a lethal combination that breaks up the surface and tears it apart.

Whilst forcing us off the high ground of the central Beacons, the weather has allowed us to do some work around the other properties.  We have been erecting a fence and putting in some self-closing gates at Clytha to replace stiles and we have prepared some timber structures ready to go up the Skirrid and lay down as boardwalk on the contour path.  We have also begun spreading some scalping’s on the footpath through the support of Cardiff Outdoor Group.  In March we have a digger booked to help us move the remaining stone scalpings further up the hill.

Whilst we have the digger we will also be spreading some scalping’s along the old tramway in the village of Colbren where Henryhd water falls are situated.  Hopefully this will improve the wet weather access along the tramway.

Think I'll let you make your own caption for this...

Think I’ll let you make your own caption for this…

In the mean time we are back up the hill on the Pont-ar-Daf side, reinforcing some of the stone water breaks and adding more stone built side ditches to prevent the banks from collapsing into the drains.

Could not believe it, but one day the sun came out and the sky was blue and I have a photo to prove it.  It was so sunny Laurence one of our Full Time Volunteers had to put on his shades while driving the ATV.

Pure, un-photo shopped, February, Beacons goodness.

Pure, un-photo shopped, February, Beacons goodness.

Our lengths group are slowly increasing in numbers and the footpaths are looking well maintained. Not been the best of weather for our Meet and Greet Wardens to stand around in the car park helping our visitors, so fingers crossed for more good weather weekends.

Looking forward to more sunny days,
Rob and the access team.

Sorry for the mud

In late November we Layed down 50 m of sandstone soil on top of the path on Storey Arms; the aim was to build up the path, slowing down the erosion rate. However I was rather hoping the weather was going to be cold and dry, instead it was constant rain, making the path boggy up to your ankles. When you hire a digger several weeks in advance you can not predict the weather. Sorry to all those who tried to walk through that muck, it did harden up after about 3 weeks.

Storey arms path coverd with soil

We have Layed down 30m of sandstone scalping’s and dust on the Pont-ar-Daf footpath creating a hard compact surface, this path was easier to drive up and drop off the scalping’s. The Storey Arms path would require a helicopter because the ground is mainly peat and breaks up very easily, neither could we get our vehicles much further than the river due to the steep climb up.
We have transported a further 32 tons of scalping’s up the Skirrid mountain, near to the town of Abergavenny and will spread them onto the path leading up through the woods towards the summit.

The maintenance of the footpaths continues through this winter period thanks to our lengths group and volunteers from a health group based in Pontypridd and we also have a new full time volunteer to assist me, Laurence, who once a week enjoys running up and down Pen-y-Fan after work in the dark.

We have taken the chance to have a few days of the mountains and go south towards Cardiff where we where pulling out willow trees from a wetland, so basically we still got wet, but it was a lot warmer.

Whilst we wait to hear what funding we’ll get in the New Year for our upland path work, we’ll be mostly in the east.  A few more easy access gates at Clytha to replace stiles and old gates as well as a bit of maintenance catch-up on the paths.  Also an opportunity to extend some of the boardwalk on the Skirrid.

Will finish with a picture from the archive, this one showing the saddle between Pen-y-Fan, heading towards Corn Du.  Taken in the late 1960’s, it looks quite unvisited, with none of the paths you see today.

View of Corn Du coming down the path from Pen-y-Fan.  Taken some time in the late 1960's.

View of Corn Du coming down the path from Pen-y-Fan. Taken some time in the late 1960’s.

Happy Christmas,
Rob and the access team.

It’s all about Pont-ar-Daf, mostly

Pont-ar-Daf remains our big focus.  As I write this we have a contractor just starting to take his harvesting machine in to tackle the larger northern section.  We do like a nice big machine, so it would be rude not to post a picture.

Harvester gets going

Harvester gets going.

Please take note of any warning signs around Pont-ar-Daf whilst the work is going on, the machines and trees are a lot bigger than you.  This work should all be finished by the end of February.

Timber harvested is making its way into fencing products, gates, sawn timber for construction, pallets and bio-fuel for power stations.

We also have some logs that we have kept for ourselves.  We will be milling these at the end of February.  This will help keep our Access and Estate teams in timber for gates, boardwalks, fencing and construction projects.  Certainly helps keep our product miles down, for some items it’ll just be a handful of miles.  In fact, the finished product may only be 100m from where it grew.

We’ve managed to get away from Pont-ar-Daf a few times too.  We’ve been planting trees in what we call the ‘plantaion’ in the Upper Tarell Valley.  We planted this block last year, but we had quite a few trees die, due to the dry spring.  We were back planting or ‘beating up’ the gaps with two of our full time volunteers, Jonny and Simon.

Before the snow we had a lot of wet weather, this caused one of the banks to slip on the Tarell river.  Several large trees came down with it, so we have been clearing them out of the river before they cause a blockage.

Timber winched out

Tree spaghetti all untangled and out of the river.

February will see our concentration kept on Pont-ar-Daf, but should also see the rides cut on the Skirrid to maintain access and a variety of habitats for woodland wildlife, especially the butterflies.  The woods team will also be joining Simon and Jonny who have been helping out with our veteran tree survey, to help them categorise some tricky trees at Clytha.

Back to the woods now,
Woods team.