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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It’s a woods life for me

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Developing the forestry track

Hi, I’m Morgan a full time volunteer with the woodlands team for the Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire National Trust.  It’s been a busy six months or so since I moved here from Northamptonshire so hopefully I can give you a bit of an insight into working and living in the Brecon Beacons.

A lot of my working time has been the development of a forestry track in the conifer plantation at Pont ar Daf.  Those of you who have walked up to Corn Du or Pen y Fan in the last six months may have walked past the woods if you took the Storey Arms or Pont ar Daf paths, you may even have heard the chainsaws.

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The finished result

The aim of the project was to increase the length of the original track, allowing a full circuit of the woodland to improve future access and management.  The long term management of this woodland involves felling coupes (half hectare blocks) from the inside working outwards, with a replanting scheme of native hardwoods (60%) and natural regeneration of conifers (40%).  This is a 50 year plan, showing there are no quick fixes in woodland management.

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Morgan working hard

I was straight into felling in my first week under the watchful eyes of Stuart and Tim, the woodland rangers.  I had the chance to get stuck into much bigger trees than I’ve ever felled before and quickly became comfortable and more efficient in the routine of felling and neatly stripping down trees of their branches, ready for extraction.

Once the felling was completed, we began extracting the timber.  Each tree has been graded and, depending on its quality, was cut to length to be sold, ending up as saw mill logs or fencing stakes for example.  Whilst extracting timber, a local contractor helped level the ground, install drainage pipes and stone the track.  The drainage in particular being vital in an area where there is such high annual rainfall.  Being so important, they required suitable protection on both the inlet and outlet sides, using large stones in a dry-stone wall style to retain the earth and stone behind it – especially with heavy forestry machinery using the track.  Below you can see the use of both the natural stone we uncovered whilst digging the track and recycled kerb stones.

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Outside of work, I’ve been lucky enough to live in the Tarell Valley.  The diversity of wildlife found in this fairly wooded valley has been a pleasure to watch in my spare time.  With so many areas to explore from the front door, I’ve been spoilt for choice.  The conditions at these higher altitudes provide different habitats for species I have never seen in the lowlands of the Midlands such as the golden ringed dragonfly, wood wasp and regular dipper sightings on the Tarell river.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Carno wood, where the National Trust has done a lot of positive management over the last 25 years.  It provides a lovely display of bluebells earlier in the year and is bursting with breeding birds in spring – many of these have travelled from Africa to nest in Britain, including willow warblers, chiff chaffs and wood warblers.  I’d really recommend trying to visit this woodland, early spring mornings are almost deafening with the vast array of birdsong.  Seeing the seasons change and the wildlife that comes and goes with those changes has been a privilege.  The pictures of the stream below show the variation in flow rate after a period of heavy rain in early March and over a month of unseasonably dry weather in late April.

Joining the team here has been a fantastic experience, I’m learning and improving my skills every day and hopefully it will result in gaining future employment in woodland conservation and forestry.  I’d recommend a position like this to anyone considering a similar career path.

Cheers, Morgan

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

Combating erosion, a constant battle

Easter is always a busy time of year for the National Trust and this was no exception for us with 30,000 visitors through the gates at Pont ar Daf and Storey Arms during the month of April.  Sadly the visitors to the central Brecon Beacons did leave evidence of their trip by scattering lots of rubbish including 239 bags of dog poo, 109 empty plastic water bottles as well as an empty bottle of champagne and drinking glasses.  Over the Easter break, National Trust staff and volunteers picked up 11 full sacks of rubbish from the slopes alone.  We’re also very grateful to those nameless walkers who continue to pick up rubbish when they are out and about.

Visitor numbers to the central Brecon Beacons continue to grow every year and 2016 saw an increase of over 30,000 people through the gate at Pont ar Daf, the most popular access route to Pen y Fan, compared to the previous year.  And these busy periods are not just restricted to holidays such as Easter.  Each winter, once the snow has fallen, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwalkers avoid the slippery compacted ice on the footpaths and spread out looking for better grip, thus stripping the once vegetated areas below and creating wide, bare scars.  As the snow melts and the rain falls, the soil is then washed away leaving behind ruts which fill with rain water, eventually creating gullies.  During the thawing of the paths, loosened soil gets picked up by walkers on their footwear and when combined with rainfall the soil loss on the footpaths can be over 5cm deep in winter.  The lost soil takes hundreds of years to be replaced naturally; we cannot replace it as the whole area has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation, so we can only use what is in keeping with the area, and in this case sandstone.

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University of Bath students getting stuck in

Every spring and early summer we need to landscape and revegetate the areas surrounding the footpaths to try and prevent further loss of soil, in order to achieve this we rely on the help of volunteers.  In March and April we welcomed students from Strode College, Somerset and University of Bath who assisted in opening up some of the cross and side ditches.  These ditches were trampled during the winter period and this conservation work will allow the water to run away from the footpaths once again.  We have many more volunteer groups booked in for the summer period to help us with vital erosion control work.

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Strode College students working hard

The footpaths continue to erode as they are mainly subsoil paths so we need to put a harder wearing surface on top.  This summer we are hoping to airlift 200 tonnes of sandstone scalpings onto sections of the Storey Arms and Pont ar Daf footpaths.  All this work costs money and at present only money received from National Trust member subscriptions are paying for it.  Looking ahead, the income that will be generated from the new proposed car park at Pont ar Daf will assist towards the future financial costs of combating erosion, such an essential part of my role as lead ranger for the central Brecon Beacons.

Rob Reith
Lead 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