It’s a woods life for me

Picture 1

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

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What’s occuring?

First up, we are bringing some new changes to the blog this year.  There will be articles from more members of the team here in Brecon about the work we are involved in as well as more regular updates on our Facebook page.  You’ll be hearing from the access, estates and nature conservation teams, but first of all, we’ll kick off with the woods team and what’s going on at Pont-ar-Daf.

Somewhere near the start of work.

Somewhere near the start of work.

I think it’s fair to say, there has been quite a change in the woods at Pont-ar-Daf.  Most notably this kicked off at the start of 2012 when works began to remove trees that fell under a plant health notice to control the spread of Phytophthora ramorum disease in the Larch trees that made up most of the road edge of the woodland.  At the same time, we were just starting a project to bring a bit of management and life back into this neglected conifer plantation.

That's the larch gone.

That’s the larch gone.

After making some alterations to our plans to account for the mass felling of the larch, we moved onto the task of creating an access track to get us into the woods so that we can start managing it by being able to get around.  The winter after the felling we planted the felled area with a mix of upland broadleaved species, minus ash with the outbreak of another tree disease, chalara. 

Tree planting with some of the NTGower volunteers.

Tree planting with some of the NTGower volunteers.

The new planting seemed to attract the hill sheep that made it through the fence to the road, this prompted us to fence the woodland to protect all the new trees which were like sweets to the sheep.  So the fence is just to keep the sheep out, you are welcome to use the gates to have a look around, just keep an eye out in case we are working and you need to keep your distance.

Fencing the woods in or out?

Fencing the woods in or out?

This year will see us focus our efforts on clearing the block of Sitka spruce near the Pont-ar-Daf gate to the hill.  This block has reached maturity and is ripe to harvest.  The intention for these trees has always been as a commercial crop and now we are just fulfilling the cycle so that the next one can begin. With that out the way, we hope to put the finishing touches to our access tracks that will help with the long-term management of the woods.

So what is the vision beyond?  Well, it will remain a woodland and we’re certainly not going to be felling it all in one go.  Some areas will be thinned to allow the remaining trees to mature into good timber trees, small parcels will be cut to allow new areas to be planted up so that we can move towards a continuous cover method of woodland management that is more favourable to wildlife and the landscape view.   After all that work, the woodland will be left for some rest and recuperation, to adapt to its new spaces, for the new trees to get away and to let everything settle down.

The woods team.