Out and about this summer

Hi everyone, I hope you have all been making the most of the summer and getting out and about. We’ve certainly had a busy summer here, and have been making the most of the warm (if slightly wet) weather!

Two of the main activities we’ve completed this summer have been monitoring and recording wildlife at various sites, and getting kids out into the woods and closer to nature. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind but fun and rewarding too.

With the help of our volunteer Ellie, survey work has mainly been focused at Parc Lodge farm, one of our sites which lies on the lower slopes of the Sugar Loaf near Abergavenny. Data has been collected on the flora so that we can analyse different areas of the farm. This will enable us to see if any of these areas have the potential to be managed in a more sympathetic way to improve the diversity of plants. This would mean working with the farmer to find a way to maintain the economic value of the land whilst enhancing it for wildlife.

Below you can see Ellie hard at work with the Sugar Loaf in the background and whilst surveying we came across this Common lizard.

Some of our other sites that have been monitored include fields around Coelbren. Three are of particular interest due to them being entered into the Coronation Meadows scheme. This project is part of the Coronation anniversary campaign to restore the UK’s threatened wildflower meadows due to a staggering loss of 97% of meadows in the last 75 years. The fields were harrowed and reseeded this spring and with the traditional hay meadow management that is being implemented, we will hopefully see a transition over time into a diverse and beautiful set of hay meadows.

Below is a pic of a Painted lady butterfly on a Devil’s-bit scabious at one of our meadows and our quad with the harrow and seed.

On a different note – this summer we also had a series of children’s events in the woods near Henrhyd Falls. Kids these days spend far too much time indoors, playing on their computers or iPads, and these activity days are aimed to give families an opportunity to spend some quality time together outside, learning about the amazing wildlife we have on our doorstep. We had plenty of activities from den building, making natural paints and constructing bug hotels to name just a few. Here are some photos to give you a taste of what everyone got up to…

If you are interested in coming out, keep an eye out for events in October half term which will be Halloween themed. Locations will include Abergavenny and Coelbren.

Jess, Conservation and Engagement Ranger


Working hard to keep footpaths open

As a relatively new ranger with the National Trust, I thought I would explain some of


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.


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.


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

Common elements

Managing fire and water on some of the common land we look after.   Looking at our ponds on the Begwns near Hay-on-Wye and how we burn to promote grouse on the Sugarloaf above Abergavenny.

Sugar Loaf Burning

We recently spent a morning on the heathland to the north of the Sugar Loaf burning some of the older woody heather. The grouse that inhabit the area need the longer older heather to hide and nest within, but need young fresh shoots on which to feed. This management technique, when carried out over a number of years on different patches, creates an age and height diversity of heather that improves its conservation value. It looks very dramatic and is certainly an exciting activity to carry out! The recently burnt area will have new shoots of young heather very soon. Next time you’re on the summit have a look to the north and you’ll see the patchwork of burning and cutting management we’ve done over the years. And look out for grouse too!

Dramatic work this heather burning.

Dramatic work this heather burning.

The patchwork of heathland management work on Sugar Loaf.

The patchwork of heathland management work on Sugar Loaf.

Puddle or pond?

The rolling upland grassland that is the Begwns offer some of the best views of the Brecon Beacons. From its high point at the Roundabout, the northern edge of the Black Mountains, the Beacons and the Black Mountain dominate the skyline. And at only 415m the climb from the road is a gentle one, giving you the views without the effort!

The Roundabout on top the Begwns.

The Roundabout on top the Begwns.

The many ponds on the Begwns are its main conservation interest. The recently established survey group counted 14 ponds across the site, although more appear during the wetter winter months. Trying to find the 14 in summer can prove tricky as many of them dry up. These ephemeral ponds together with those than stay wet all year and those that only appear in winter are of great conservation value. It is better to have several ponds with different characteristics than one big pond – many ponds provide a great variety of different habitats. The ponds of the Begwns fit the bill perfectly.

The group helping us survey one of the many ponds.

The group helping us survey one of the many ponds.

Now you might think how is a dry pond good for pond life? Imagine you are a tadpole. If fish can survive in your pond because it stays wet all year, the chances of you developing into a frog will be lower! Another species that benefits from the seasonally dry ponds is a grass-like aquatic fern, the plant Pillwort, Pilularia globulifer. It grows on the damp mud and from a distance looks like a carpet of grass. It flourishes in habitats under a long tradition of heavy grazing as the Begwns has. A survey in 1998 recorded pillwort in 6 ponds. This had increased to 8 in 2014, with sheep the most likely to have spread the sporocarps between ponds. These are the ‘seeds’ of pillwort and only form when water levels drop exposing the plant.

Pillwort, growing in the damp, muddy margins.

Pillwort, growing in the damp, muddy margins.

Soon frogs and toads will be breeding in the many ponds attracting otters to the Begwns to take advantage of this food supply. A local photographer has pictured otters on the Begwns so we know they are predating these amphibians. Two polecat sightings have been confirmed recently. This is good news as together these native mammals will keep mink at bay due to the increased competition for food.

The ponds are a haven for many species of dragonfly and damselfly. For 2015 the British Dragonfly Society website will list the largest, Monks Pond, as one of top 8 places in Radnorshire to see dragons and damsels. Come summer you’ll see the impressive Emporer dragonfly patrolling its patch along with Broad Bodied Chasers and the Common Blue damselfly.

Ben – Commons Link Ranger

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…

Access Ranger

Kids and kites on the Sugar Loaf


Meet us on Saturday 17th August to take part in this family fun walk for the chance to tick off some of your 50 things to do before you’re 11 3/4.

Join our countryside rangers on this family adventure to the summit of the Sugar Loaf Mountain. As well as climbing a huge hill, you’ll be able to take part in hunting for bugs, finding your way with a map and compass and, weather permitting, fly a kite. The walk will be between four to five miles long, starting at 11am.

  • Please bring a waterproof jacket, warm, comfortable clothes, walking boots, a picnic and your kite.
  • Please meet at the lower car park on Mynydd Llanwenarth (SO 271163) on the right-hand-side, before the main car park.
  • Dogs on leads welcome
  • Children must be accompanied by an adult and must be aged 5+
  • Although there is only a gradual climb on the Llanwenarth, the ascent of the Sugarloaf is steep and becomes rocky towards the summit.

Booking Essential
Child £1 (adults free), book online or call 0844 249 1895
More Information: Hana Callard, 01874 625515, brecon@nationaltrust.org.uk

Calm before the storm

We now say goodbye and thank-you very much to Alex.  Alex has been with us as a full-time volunteer in the woods, giving us a hand and gaining experience for a career in forestry.  He has now returned to university to complete the final year of his degree.  More from Alex here – http://beta.nationaltrust.org.uk/home/view-page/item471548/292150/

We will shortly be recruiting a new woodland volunteer, so keep your eyes open if this is your sort of thing.

September was mostly a month of holidays and odd little jobs as members of the woodlands team took (well deserved) holidays.  One of those odd jobs has been to build tree guards around oak trees that we have planted on the Coach Road that runs along the Tarell Valley.  Although the Coach Road isn’t grazed, the trees have somewhat suffered the browsing of stock that are on the move between fields.  The guards will help protect the trees from opportunist grazers until they are big enough to be un-tasty and the guards can be removed.

Elsewhere we have been reducing vegetation.  A much needed visit to the Skirrid to cut the grass growing up through the rides has opened up access again to the circular walk around the site.

This year our annual staff and volunteers outing headed to the Brockhampton estate – http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-brockhampton/ or the new beta site – http://beta.nationaltrust.org.uk/brockhampton-estate
A nice stroll took us through the parkland and woodland, before getting a chance to look in at Lower Brockhampton.  Fantastic timber structures make up this house surrounded by a damson orchard and an exhibit of an early chainsaw – think we’ll stick with our modern ones.

The start of October has seen us assist with filming on the Sugar Loaf which you may have seen more of on our Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/NTBreconBeacons

On with the real work though and we are back into felling.  We are now working at Pont-ar-Daf, currently on a thinning project but there are greater plans ahead…