Volunteers in action

Our volunteers help us massively and hopefully, we help them too.

In the woods team we quite often have a full-time volunteer working with us.  They get to shadow us, join in our day to day work and gradually we introduce them to the skills of our trade and collectively we get a lot more done together.

Our most recent volunteer was Henry.  Henry was with us for a little over a year and saw the whole cycle of our work schedule, there’s more to forestry than just cutting down trees.  Over the period of a year our volunteers often get to be involved in all the stages of a woodland’s life; preparation, planting, thinning, harvesting, milling and construction. Not to mention all the side roles of a ranger, whether that be digging drainage ditches or being dropped up the hill by helicopter.  See some of Henry’s year in the slideshow below.

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Henry isn’t the first of our volunteers to move on successfully, you can find quite a few of our previous volunteers working in the trees or in the conservation sector.  It is great to see them all develop and get to grips with the work and move onto employment.  The only downside is they leave just as they get really good.

Some haven’t left; it is now 10 years since I turned up in the yard as a volunteer with the aim of getting better at forestry so to find work in the sector.  Some would say that progress is questionable, but I am still here and learning and getting to share the experience I have gained with other newcomers, but now as a member of staff.

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Here I am in my early days, clefting oak for a tree guard – with a four-legged friend checking out my work

We will start recruitment for a new woods volunteer at the beginning of 2017 where they’ll get to hit the ground running in the midst of our felling and planting seasons.  Keep an eye out on our Facebook and Twitter pages or take a look at the National Trust Volunteering website where there are even more opportunities and locations if the woods of the Brecon Beacons aren’t for you.

Tim
Woodland Ranger and former full-time volunteer

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Let’s go down to the woods today

It has been just over 4 years since we started our work at Pont-ar-Daf, the woodland at one of the busiest access points to Pen-y-Fan.  When we first arrived on site, it was a neglected and unmanaged commercial crop.  A study of the site carried out by our nature conservation team considered it to be of little value to nature, the highlights being a strip of old birch and oak wood running through it at the north end, a drainage ditch at the south end and a failed Scots Pine crop in the middle, each being quite significant for the species found in them.

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Work only just starting at the beginning of 2012

The wood has changed somewhat since then, rapidly at first with the discovery of a disease in the larch trees (Phytophthora ramorum) and more gradually as we have improved access around the woods to allow for future management.  We are looking to maintain a mix of species of varying age.  The new tracks intersect old plough lines, in turn reducing run-off.  The intention is to keep these tracks as wide corridors to let light into the wood and give space for woodland floor species.  In other sections we are maintaining cover to preserve the humidity and moisture for ferns, mosses and other damp loving plants.

What has impressed us the most is the explosion of wildlife we’ve seen in the wake of our work.  One of our aims is to increase the nature conservation value of the site and by spending a lot of time there, we are seeing all sorts of things take advantage that weren’t before.

Frog spawn was probably the first thing we spotted.  With the harvesting machines not

Frog spawn

Frog spawn

long off site, they were quick to make use of the puddles left behind by the machines tracking across the hillside.

Apart from the trees we have planted (with varying success until we fenced out the sheep that wander the road), there has been a gradual increase in the natural spread of plants across the site.  Taking advantage of the light now making it to the floor, lack of competition and particularly the disturbance of the ground where we have been working and landscaping.  Various grasses and reeds have come up along with primroses, rosebay willow herb, foxgloves, heather, bilberry, marsh violets, gorse, bramble, bluebells and colts foot as well as some natural tree regeneration of birch, rowan and some of the conifer species that were on the site.  All the seed has been unlocked from the soil or come by natural means.

We have noticed a gradual increase in bird sound, particularly noticeable in the breaks from using machinery.  Just as the sound bursts in and you start looking around, you can see the birds.  Ravens, buzzards and red kites circle overhead, occasionally taking a perch in the tree tops.  Lower down, below the canopy and hunting for insects, we see tree pipit (a rare red status species), redstart (amber), treecreeper, robins and many members of the tit family.

Some species which may be considered shy can be quite brazen.  A quite unexpected spot

Red Grouse

Red Grouse in flowering heather

by Stuart our Lead Woodland Ranger was a Red grouse, walking past him as he stacked timber with the tractor.  It was picking its way through the heather, grazing its way up the hill, taking advantage of the new, young growth.

This was not the only brazen visitor to the woods.  We saw footprints and tracks in the snow criss-crossing the site, but one afternoon during a chainsaw course we were hosting, a fox popped up from the lower part of the woods, trotted over the top of a timber stack, observing the trainees and taking a leisurely walk around.  The fox watched them from a relatively short distance in the trees; one of those moments too busy watching to take a picture.

The increased sunlight and extra ground vegetation cover has allowed for a great increase in the number of sun loving creatures.  Butterflies and moths seem more frequent across the site, following access tracks and floating over the clear fell areas.  Pictured below is one we found whilst fencing the southern tip of the site.  It really stood out with the bright pink on black, sat on top of a yellow flower, unusually bright for a moth.

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Five-spot Burnet moth, spotted whilst fencing

Another sun worshipper, spotted sunning themselves on the tree stumps, or here on one of the old boundary walls, is a common lizard.

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Common Lizard sunning itself

As we walk across the site we have seen various small mammals running through the maze of brash, only the briefest of glimpses as they run for cover, but looking like shrews and mice.

This leaves us with our most recent spot.  Most likely feeding off the small mammals and

Kestrel

Kestrel, hovering

reptiles, we’ve been watching a kestrel hunt for its lunch while we stopped to eat ours, watching it hover and dive, completely unfazed by a busy car park and walkers making their way up and down the hill.  So a plan for this year is to build a nest box for the kestrel, place it high and sheltered and see what happens.

A lot of this increase is benefiting from the work we are carrying out, but we have been spending a lot of time up there too and just being out there increases your chances of seeing the wildlife.

Tim – Woodland Ranger

Hills and Woodlands

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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, brecon@nationaltrust.org.uk

Outdoors and indoors, a divided team.

May has been quite a varied month with one half of the woods team office-bound, we’ve not quite been running at full pace, but have ticked off a few of those office jobs that have been put off in favour of getting outdoors.

So, out in the woods Stuart has been dragging in and stacking the timber covered in our previous blogs.  Soft woods from Pont-ar-Daf as part of our woodland plan is making its way into sawmills and hardwood thinnings from the river that are destined to become firewood.  All this helps fund our conservation work in the woodlands.  Removing trees to create space and light, allowing space for new trees and lower flora levels to come through, creating a mixed age structure and levels in the woodlands that benefit a wider range of wildlife and at the same time, not wasting the products of the woodland.  Hopefully this goes some way to a sustainable circle.

Pont-ar-Daf, pick-up sticks

Great big mess of sticks waiting to be pulled in, stacked and sold before we can re-plant.

Not allowed out, Tim has been bashing away at the computer, fixing bits, and out meeting schools and suppliers.  Not the usual things we write about here, but the bits that keep us moving.  Hopefully you will be starting to see a wave of updates and new sections to our websites, social media and notice boards. Planning towards the Welsh 50 things campaign and Hay Festival.
Working with members of the local Forest Education Initiative, we will be helping to provide log circles for forest school sessions in their grounds and have welcomed students from Coleg Powys to help us renovate our volunteer accommodation with the replacement of the decking.
Some of the equipment essential to our every day work has finally had some down time too for essential repairs and spares have been gathered up to keep us going through the summer.

Dan-y-Gyrn deck by Coleg Powys

Getting the new decking structure in with Coleg Powys.

June should see Tim declared fit again and allowed out the office, not soon enough for the woods team, all this good weather they’ve missed out on, best get busy, there’s felling fencing and firewood to be completed.

Glad to be in the woods,
The woods team.

Discover wild woodlands and beautiful bluebells with the National Trust

Bluebells, bird song and one of the best preserved hill forts in Wales are just some of the delights on offer during a National Trust guided walk on Saturday 11th May at Clytha, near Abergavenny.

Man walking at Blakes Wood, Essex, in spring.

Coed-y-Bwnydd in Bloom will be led by an experienced ranger, taking in the Coed-y-Bwnydd hill fort cared for by the National Trust, where dappled shade provides the perfect conditions for a wonderful array of woodland plants and flowers.

This moderate ramble of 8.5 miles will also take in Grade One-listed Clytha Castle – one of the outstanding 18th century follies of Wales.

The walk will start at 10am from the riverside car park near Clytha House, off the Old Raglan Road at the Bettws Newydd junction. Please bring suitable clothing, food and drink.

BOOKING ESSENTIAL
Adult £5, book online or call 0844 249 1895
For more information, visit http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sugarloaf-and-usk-valley/

Time for a new woodland volunteer

A new year and time for a new woods volunteer.  Not just because we like new things, but because our previous volunteer, Peter, has moved on to paid work after gaining experience with us.

Woods volunteer -this could be you.

Woods volunteer -this could be you.

Advert is reproduced below, deadline is Monday 11th February, 9AM.

A chance to join our woodland team covering Mid & SE Wales. We are based just outside Brecon and are very hands on. We are looking for an individual with a chainsaw ticket. In return we offer accommodation and hope to help you develop your felling, forestry and countryside skills.
We ask that you can commit to a minimum of 6 months for 3-4 days a week.

This role will involve supporting the Woodland Wardens to carry out all aspects of woodland and tree management, including felling, thinning, extraction and milling of timber; maintaining woodland rides; fencing (new/repairs/maintenance); survey (dangerous trees/veteran trees); planting and tree care.
You can see some of our work on this blog

Mid & SE Wales has a diverse range of properties with woodland amounting to 400 ha’s in total. Woods and trees are found on virtually all sites including farms, parkland, mountain edge and by rivers. All sites require regular tree care maintenance and on a number of properties there are ongoing woodland management projects. The Woodlands are managed for landscape, conservation (biodiversity) and access, whilst looking to make a commercial return to sustain our work.

Essential:
Chainsaw Use (NPTC CS30, CS31 essential) (Maintenance, Cross Cutting and Felling of Small Trees)
A keen interest in woodland or Forestry Management or Forestry Education

General:
Fit and Healthy
Full UK Driving License
General experience or training in other countryside or estate skills for example:
• Tractor driving, ATV driving, Brush-cutting and strimming
• Fencing, Dry stone walling
A general interest and understanding of countryside & forestry issues.

For more information and an application pack, contact our Assistant woodland warden Tim Bennett by e-mail: tim.bennett@nationaltrust.org.uk.
Alternatively, leave a message with the office on 01874 625515 and we shall get back to you.