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.


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


Signs of Spring

What with the new lambs and fine weather we’ve been having over the last couple of weeks it really feels like spring has arrived. Today whilst walking in the Tarrell Valley near Libanus I saw some swallows and heard a cuckoo, both for the first time this year.

The National Trust is responsible for looking after a number of sites across the Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire, not only by maintaining public access, but also through our nature conservation work.

April 01

One of the habitats that is a key feature of Lanlay Meadows, in the Vale of Glamorgan, is grassland. The meadows are just beginning to come to life. The wildflowers that grow here attract a whole host of insects throughout the spring and summer- bees, butterflies and moths. Birds are nesting in the hedgerows and the mature trees are coming into leaf.

Some of the meadows are classified as neutral grassland. As spring moves into summer, look out for all sorts of hay meadow species like knapweed, Devils bit scabious and stitchworts and hawkbits as well as wood anemone and marsh marigoldsaround the field edges. In the rhos pasture (also called marshy grassland) you will find yellow flag iris and a variety of different rushes.

Cuckoo Flower

Cuckoo Flower

Now is the time of year when we see the results of all our management throughout the year. Every summer, we put a lot of effort into pulling Himalayan balsam, an invasive species that grows very quickly and colonises large areas of the meadow, especially close to the water courses, and out competes the native species. At the end of the summer the meadows are cut then ideally lightly grazed with cattle or ponies. The livestock are then removed in the winter when the ground is very wet to avoid the soil and vegetation getting poached and damaged. Over the winter is when we carry out management of the scrub to stop it encroaching onto the meadows, out competing the grasses and flowers and drying out the soil. This mainly involves cutting brambles and blackthorn on the field edges. All this work means that each spring and summer the rich biodiversity of the meadows is maintained for the value of wildlife and visitors.

We are always interested in any biodiversity records or information about all our sites, so if you are a keen recorder do let us know about anything you see!

Community Engagement Ranger

Hills and Woodlands


Come with us on Saturday 12th October and meander along the Tarell Valley, through Carno Wood and up onto The Gyrn to soak up the history and wilderness of this special place situated beneath the great peaks of Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du.

  • Please bring waterproofs, warm, comfortable clothing, walking boots, food and drink.
  • Please meet at Storey Arms car park on the A470 (SN 982 203) (LD3 8NL)
  • 10am start
  • Dogs on leads welcome
  • Children aged 7+ are welcome but must be accompanied by an adult.
  • This walk involves steep inclines and descents, well-maintained paths, but occasionally uneven underfoot. Not suitable for wheelchairs.

Booking Essential
Adult £5, Child £2, book online or call 0844 249 1895
More Information: Hana Callard, 01874 625515,

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.

Now there are 3

As a quick update on some of what we had planned for June, you can view what we got up to on our trip to the beach here;
We hope to see some of the Gower staff again when we re-plant at Pont-ar-Daf this winter…

July has been a return to hard graft and a great introduction to our work for Peter the new woodland volunteer. Peter is staying with us whilst he builds up his woodland experience to help get a job in the sector.

With some better weather we have had time to focus on the care of the newer plantings around the Tarell Valley. A bit of extra fencing to make sure that the areas are stock proof – our young trees seem to be the favourite grazing for sheep. Next up comes the weeding, with a careful eye, we strim out all the bracken between the trees. The trouble with the bracken, is that it shades out the young, small trees in the summer and then come the autumn it collapses and squashes them. A quick spot spray will hopefully help the trees get away this summer.

Young trees after a little care and attention.

Proof of it getting nicer, we now have bees in residence at the back of our yard, hoping to make the most of the heather on the hill above us.

Busy bees

We have also managed to get Peter stuck right into some forestry work with the creation of a new track in Pont-ar-Daf.  He has been felling, winching, cross-cutting and extracting timber.  The new track will help us get around the woodland so that we can manage it.  We have also created a new loading area for the timber lorries so they no longer have to load near the busy entrance onto the hill that is the main access point to Pen-y-Fan. 

Whilst the digger was on site, we also sent it along the bottom edge of the wood.  Here it has been preparing the ground for a new permissive path between Pont-ar-Daf and Storey Arms that is off the roadside.  There is a full gallery of pictures on our facebook page.

Track building, full steam ahead.

Now we are wishing for a lovely sunny August.  Not just for your holidays, but with some good weather, we should finish or fencing plans for the TarellValley.  This has been a project of our over the last few years to exclude stock from the wooded areas to help new growth and the under storey to flourish.

And if there are a few not so pleasant days, that should be enough for us to finally fill the last of the log sheds for this winter.


Time to get out there,
The Woods 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.


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.